A World Away from the West Bank, Vermont Shooting Victims Face New Grief and Fear

In this Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, photo provided by family attorney Abed Ayoub, three college students, from the left, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Hisham Awartani, stand together for a photograph. (Rich Price via AP, File)
In this Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, photo provided by family attorney Abed Ayoub, three college students, from the left, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Hisham Awartani, stand together for a photograph. (Rich Price via AP, File)
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A World Away from the West Bank, Vermont Shooting Victims Face New Grief and Fear

In this Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, photo provided by family attorney Abed Ayoub, three college students, from the left, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Hisham Awartani, stand together for a photograph. (Rich Price via AP, File)
In this Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, photo provided by family attorney Abed Ayoub, three college students, from the left, Tahseen Ali Ahmad, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Hisham Awartani, stand together for a photograph. (Rich Price via AP, File)

Nearly a week after three college students of Palestinian descent were shot and seriously wounded while taking an evening walk, relatives of two of the victims have arrived in Vermont from the war-torn West Bank, grappling with a new reality that has shattered their lives and a place they thought was a safe haven.

Elizabeth Price and her husband Ali Awartani flew in Wednesday just as their son, Hisham Awartani, underwent surgery. After the Israel-Hamas war erupted in early October, they decided it would be safer for Hisham to stay in the United States instead of coming home for the holidays.

Now they don't know if he will ever walk again.

"When my nephew came to this country to pursue his studies and when he came to stay with me for Thanksgiving in Burlington, Vermont, it never occurred to me that he may be victim to this type of violence," Awartani's uncle Rich Price said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. "And so, I feel a sense of shame, I feel a sense of outrage, and it’s been a really difficult awakening to the fact that even here — even in this country, even in this town — that many of the risks that exist for my nephew and his friends in Palestine exist for them here."

Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, all aged 20 and attending colleges in the eastern US, were visiting Price and his family for the holiday break. The three have been friends since first grade at Ramallah Friends School, a private school in the West Bank. While they were out for a walk Saturday evening after a family birthday party, a man approached them and shot them without saying a word, they told police.

The young men were speaking in a mix of English and Arabic and two of them were also wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were shot, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said.

Abdalhamid ran when the man started shooting and jumped over a fence. He hid in a backyard for a minute shaking, fearing the man was after him and that his friends were dead, before going to a house that had lights on and urging them to call 911, he told the AP on Friday. He learned at the University of Vermont Medical Center that his friends were alive but more seriously injured and asked to be placed in the intensive care room with them, he said.

"Palestinians in general and in the US are suffering from hate. I don't think any race or ethnicity should be targeted like that," Abdalhamid said in the hotel where he’s staying with his mother, Tamara Tamimi, after being released from the hospital earlier in the week.

Tamimi arrived in Vermont Wednesday from Jerusalem. After she and her husband got the 3 a.m. phone call that her son and his two friends were shot, she said she was relieved to talk to Kinnan from the emergency room — that he was alive. But she later fell apart, she said.

"I remember the overwhelming feeling was enough. It's just enough. It's enough pain for Palestinians. We're already grieving. We're already carrying so much grief," she said.

She said her son has been upset about what's happening in Gaza. "We've all been in so much pain and to have this happen, I really just fell apart and started throwing things around with so much anger saying, 'There's nowhere safe for us. There's nowhere safe for Palestinians. Where are we supposed to go?'"

Ahmad’s parents are expected to arrive in Vermont on Saturday.

Carmen Abdelhadi, the middle school librarian at the Ramallah Friends School, remembers meeting the three as fourth graders. When she heard about the shooting, she and others in their community were shocked and "outraged" because "we know them."

"Whenever I read something about them, I cry. It could have happened to any of our sons. My son is wearing the same scarf," she said. "It’s devastating. It’s devastating on top of everything that we are going through."

Awartani, she recalled, could always be found with a book while Abdalhamid "didn’t have a bad bone" in his body and was loved by everyone, she said. And Ahmad, she said, was the sensible one who found a love of poetry early on and went on to show an aptitude in science and tech.

"I see my son in every one of them," Abdelhadi said.

Awartani suffered a spinal injury in the shooting. A bullet that is still lodged in his spine is unlikely to be removed and he is currently paralyzed from the chest down, Rich Price said. "We don't know what the long-term prognosis is," he said.

Still, Awartani's uncle said he has the will and resilience for the recovery.

"He was concerned for his friends, who were with him, their well-being and recovery. And he was also deeply concerned that so much attention was being brought to him and he's thinking about the thousands of people that are dead, the now 80 percent of Gazans who have been displaced from their homes," Price said, wearing a keffiyeh in solidarity with the three young men. "There are dozens of Hishams that are in the list of the dead in Gaza, and he's saying, 'I'm the Hisham that you know. What about the Hishams you don't know?'"

The shooting last weekend came as threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities have increased across the US in the weeks since the war began.

The suspected gunman, Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested Sunday at his apartment, where he answered the door with his hands raised and told federal agents he had been waiting for them. Eaton has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder and is currently being held without bail.

Authorities are investigating the shooting as a possible a hate crime.



Bakeries Smashed in Israel Bombardment Key to Gaza Hunger Crisis

Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP)
Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP)
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Bakeries Smashed in Israel Bombardment Key to Gaza Hunger Crisis

Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP)
Palestinian crowds struggle to buy bread from a bakery in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. (AP)

The rubble and twisted metal of Kamel Ajour's smashed-up Gaza bakery underscores one reason starving people in the north of the bombarded enclave are reduced to eating raw cactus leaves after nearly five months of Israel's military campaign.

Bread will be critical to any sustained effort to relieve Palestinian hunger, with one in six children in northern Gaza wasting from malnutrition, but most bakeries lie in rubble from Israeli bombardment and aid deliveries of flour are rare.

"We have five bakeries. This bakery was bombed and other bakeries have been damaged. We have three bakeries that can become functional," said Ajour, in a video obtained by Reuters in Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza City in the north of the strip.

A crane lifted equipment from the ruins that Ajour hoped to salvage. Inside, the metal ovens and trays were piled ramshackle amid the wreckage.

An Israeli truce proposal now being studied by Hamas would allow for the import of bakery equipment and fuel to power the ovens.

"It is most important to have a ceasefire and for bakeries to function again so we can find something to eat, and for our children, our loved ones, our families," said Basel Khairuldeen in Gaza City.

With bakeries destroyed or unable to function for lack of fuel, people have had to bake bread themselves as best they can over fires made with wood salvaged from ruined buildings.

Even small amounts of flour are often impossible to find, or too expensive to buy when available. People make bread from animal feed and birdseed. Most say they can only eat once a day at most.

Sitting by a still intact house in Jabalia, the Awadeya family have taken to eating the leaves of prickly pear cactuses to ward off hunger.

While the fruit of prickly pear cactuses are commonly eaten around the Mediterranean, the thick, sinewy leaves are only ever consumed by animals, mashed up in their feed.

Marwan al-Awadeya sat in a wheelchair, peeling off the spines and slicing off chunks of the cactus for himself and two small children in a video obtained by Reuters.

"We're living in famine. We have exhausted everything. There's nothing left to eat," he said, adding that he had lost 30 kg from hunger during the conflict.

Aid supplies

The war began when Hamas fighters rampaged into Israel on Oct. 7 killing 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel's military campaign has killed around 30,000 Palestinians say health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza.

While aid is flowing into southern parts of the strip, though too slowly to avert a hunger crisis even there, it barely makes it to northern areas that are further from the main border crossing and only accessible through more active battle fronts.

On Tuesday, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said a quarter of people in Gaza were one step away from famine, warning that such a disaster would be "almost inevitable" without action.

Israel says there is no limit to the amount of humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.

However, OCHA told the Security Council that relief agencies face "overwhelming obstacles" including restrictions on movement, crossing closures, access denials and onerous vetting procedures.

The Israeli military branch responsible for aid transfers, COGAT, said on Wednesday that 31 trucks had reached northern Gaza overnight, but had no details on distribution, saying this was up to the United Nations.

Israel has said the failure to get enough aid into Gaza to meet humanitarian needs is due to UN distribution failures.

Rare aid deliveries into northern Gaza have been chaotic, with convoys of trucks often mobbed by desperate people as they arrive.

In Gaza City, Umm Ibraheem said she just hoped a ceasefire could be agreed and food start to flow back to northern Gaza.

"You can see how people are starving, dying of hunger and thirst," she said.


Do Tensions in the Red Sea Affect Egyptian-Iranian Rapprochement?

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Iran meet in Geneva. (Egyptian Foreign Ministry)
The foreign ministers of Egypt and Iran meet in Geneva. (Egyptian Foreign Ministry)
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Do Tensions in the Red Sea Affect Egyptian-Iranian Rapprochement?

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Iran meet in Geneva. (Egyptian Foreign Ministry)
The foreign ministers of Egypt and Iran meet in Geneva. (Egyptian Foreign Ministry)

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Tuesday on the sidelines of the high-level meetings of the Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva.

The two ministers met as part of efforts to continue rapprochement between their countries. They discussed bilateral relations and developments related to Israel’s war on Gaza.

Shoukry conveyed Cairo’s “deep concern over the expansion of military tensions in the southern Red Sea region, and the direct harm to the interests of a large number of countries, including Egypt,” according to a statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

The statement raises questions about the extent the impact the tensions in the Red Sea will have on rapprochement efforts between Cairo and Tehran.

The attacks in the Red Sea are being carried out by the Houthi militias in Yemen that are backed Iran.

A number of official Egyptian-Iranian meetings have taken place recently, including talks between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the joint Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh in November.

Regarding the ongoing war in Gaza, Shoukry told Abdollahian that tensions in the Red Sea have resulted in an unprecedented threat to international shipping navigation in the Suez Canal, leading to direct harm to the interests of a large number of countries, including Egypt.

He emphasized the need for cooperation to support stability and peace and eliminate hotbeds of tension and conflicts, according to the Ministry statement.

In January, Bloomberg reported that navigation traffic in the Suez Canal declined by 41 percent from its peak in 2023, amid escalating tensions in the Red Sea due to the Houthis’ targeting of ships as part of what they say is support to Gaza.

The official spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, Ahmed Abu Zeid, said Shoukry and Abdollahian underscored their countries’ determination to restore the normal bilateral relations.

Expert in Iranian affairs at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Mohammed Abbas Naji told Asharq Al-Awsat that despite the Egyptian-Iranian rapprochement, Cairo was for now monitoring Iran’s behavior in the region, which does not seem to have changed.

He expressed Egyptian reservations and fears over Tehran’s approach in the region and the ongoing threats posed by its proxies in the Red Sea.

These concerns were also voiced in the official Ministry statement following the meeting between Shoukry and Abdollahian.

In May, the Iranian president requested his country’s ministry of Foreign Affairs to take the necessary measures to strengthen relations with Egypt. The two countries had severed diplomatic relations in 1979. They were reestablished after 11 years, but at the level of Chargé d’Affaires.


Gazans Count the Cost of War as Death Toll Nears 30,000

 Palestinians pray by the bodies of relatives who were killed in overnight Israeli air strikes on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, at Rafah's Najjar hospital on February 27, 2024, as battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas continue. (AFP)
Palestinians pray by the bodies of relatives who were killed in overnight Israeli air strikes on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, at Rafah's Najjar hospital on February 27, 2024, as battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas continue. (AFP)
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Gazans Count the Cost of War as Death Toll Nears 30,000

 Palestinians pray by the bodies of relatives who were killed in overnight Israeli air strikes on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, at Rafah's Najjar hospital on February 27, 2024, as battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas continue. (AFP)
Palestinians pray by the bodies of relatives who were killed in overnight Israeli air strikes on the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip, at Rafah's Najjar hospital on February 27, 2024, as battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas continue. (AFP)

Palestinian teacher Iman Mussallam says she is struggling to come to terms with the Gaza war's death toll nearing 30,000 after almost five months of conflict between Israel and Hamas.

But with many victims still trapped under the rubble of flattened buildings, the displaced Gaza woman says she is certain "the real number is greater than that".

"We don't know how many martyrs there will be when the war ends," added the 30-year-old, who has taken refuge at a crowded United Nations shelter in Gaza's far-southern city of Rafah.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war, sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, has brought a litany of horrors to the Palestinian territory of 2.4 million people.

The death toll is exponentially higher than that of the four previous Gaza wars combined.

Cemeteries are full, stocks of body bags have run short, and one bereaved farmer reported having to bury his three brothers and their five children in a citrus grove.

Some 1.5 million people gathered in Rafah are desperately hoping for a ceasefire, fearing yet more bloodshed if Israel launches its threatened ground assault on the city.

On Tuesday, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said at least 29,878 people had been killed so far, and another 70,215 had been injured.

The toll highlights "the extent of the suffering of the Palestinian people" during the war, the effects of which "will remain for generations to come", said Ahmed Orabi, a professor at the Islamic University of Gaza.

The war erupted with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israeli border communities that claimed the lives of 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Israel has also been gripped by the desperate plight of about 250 hostages who were taken back to Gaza during the attack, as well as the fate of the estimated 130 still being held.

That attack unleashed an Israeli military offensive of unrelenting scale in a bid to hunt down the Hamas fighters who took part in the assault and the group's leaders.

A 'death zone'

Since the start of the war, the health ministry in Gaza has been tasked with the grueling job of accounting for each of the dead and injured in the 40-kilometre (25-mile) sliver of land on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Hamas government is quick to point out that women and children account for some 70 percent of the death toll.

It has not given the number of militants killed in the fighting. The Israeli army says some 10,000 Hamas fighters have been killed so far.

The Gaza health ministry also breaks down the figures into medical workers, members of the civil defense forces and journalists covering the conflict.

As of February 24, the New-York based Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 88 media workers had been killed since the war began.

Israel questions the accuracy of the Hamas government figures, and denies deliberately targeting civilians, medical workers or journalists.

Gaza -- described by the head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as a "death zone" -- has become a place of perpetual mourning.

Not a day has gone by without a funeral in Gaza, though harsh wartime conditions have forced residents to improvise even as they grieve.

Overworked staff at under-equipped hospitals have had to use alternative forms of refrigeration before burials, including an ice-cream truck.

Elsewhere, a mass grave was dug at a dirt football field.

Bodies have been transported by donkey carts because of a lack of fuel.

Even the dead are not totally at peace, with Israel admitting it has exhumed some bodies from cemeteries as part of its efforts to identify hostages who may have been killed in the war.

"Bodies determined not (to) be those of hostages are returned with dignity and respect," the military has said.

Some 31 hostages are believed to have been killed, according to Israeli figures.

Mussallam called what has happened in Gaza "the largest massacre in modern history", but also blamed Hamas for carrying out the attack then retreating to its tunnels under Gaza.

With civilians largely paying the price, she asked, "how is it our fault?"


A Gazan Woman Crafts Warm Clothes for Displaced Children 

Displaced Palestinian woman Shehnaz Baker knits wool clothes which she hands out to displaced people for free to stay warm in winter, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip February 25, 2024. (Reuters)
Displaced Palestinian woman Shehnaz Baker knits wool clothes which she hands out to displaced people for free to stay warm in winter, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip February 25, 2024. (Reuters)
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A Gazan Woman Crafts Warm Clothes for Displaced Children 

Displaced Palestinian woman Shehnaz Baker knits wool clothes which she hands out to displaced people for free to stay warm in winter, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip February 25, 2024. (Reuters)
Displaced Palestinian woman Shehnaz Baker knits wool clothes which she hands out to displaced people for free to stay warm in winter, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip February 25, 2024. (Reuters)

Shehnaz Baker spends most of her day with yarn and a needle in her hands, making hats, gloves and socks for Palestinian children sheltering in a makeshift camp for the displaced in Rafah, on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip.

Baker, 65, who fled her home in Gaza City, said she couldn't bear to see young people in the camp without enough warm clothes, so she sent her son to buy second-hand clothes from the market, which she unraveled and transformed into new winter items.

"When I see the smile of a child wearing a hat and smiling at me, (saying) 'thank you auntie, God bless you auntie,'... this is worth all the money in the world to me," she said.

More than half of Gaza's 2.3 million residents have taken refuge in Rafah, most sleeping rough in makeshift tents or public buildings.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas killed 1,200 people in Israel and captured 253 hostages on Oct. 7, by Israeli tallies, triggering a ground assault on Gaza, with nearly 30,000 people confirmed killed, according to Gaza health authorities.


Biden, Trump Will Face Tests in Michigan’s Primaries That Could Inform November Rematch 

Early voting takes place at the Warren City Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Warren, Mich. (AP)
Early voting takes place at the Warren City Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Warren, Mich. (AP)
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Biden, Trump Will Face Tests in Michigan’s Primaries That Could Inform November Rematch 

Early voting takes place at the Warren City Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Warren, Mich. (AP)
Early voting takes place at the Warren City Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Warren, Mich. (AP)

While Joe Biden and Donald Trump are marching toward their respective presidential nominations, Michigan's primary on Tuesday could reveal significant political perils for both of them.

Trump, despite his undoubted dominance of the Republican contests this year, is facing a bloc of stubbornly persistent GOP voters who favor his lone remaining rival, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and who are skeptical at best about the former president's prospects in a rematch against Biden.

As for the incumbent president, Biden is confronting perhaps his most potent electoral obstacle yet: an energized movement of disillusioned voters upset with his handling of the war in Gaza and a relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that critics say has been too supportive.

Those dynamics will be put to the test in Michigan, the last major primary state before Super Tuesday and a critical swing state in November's general election. Even if they post dominant victories as expected on Tuesday, both campaigns will be looking at the margins for signs of weakness in a state that went for Biden by just 3 percentage points last time.

Biden said in a local Michigan radio interview Monday that it would be “one of the five states” that would determine the winner in November.

Michigan has the largest concentration of Arab Americans in the nation, and more than 310,000 residents are of Middle Eastern or North African ancestry. Nearly half of Dearborn’s roughly 110,000 residents claim Arab ancestry.

It has become the epicenter of Democratic discontent with the White House’s actions in the Israel-Hamas war, now nearly five months old, following Hamas' deadly Oct. 7 attack and kidnapping of more than 200 hostages. Israel has bombarded much of Gaza in response, killing nearly 30,000 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to Palestinian figures.

Democrats angry that Biden has supported Israel's offensive and resisted calls for a ceasefire are rallying voters on Tuesday to instead select “uncommitted.”

The “uncommitted” effort, which began in earnest just a few weeks ago, has been backed by officials such as Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress, and former Rep. Andy Levin, who lost a Democratic primary two years ago after pro-Israel groups spent more than $4 million to defeat him.

Abbas Alawieh, spokesperson for the Listen to Michigan campaign that has been rallying for the “uncommitted” campaign, said the effort is a “way for us to vote for a ceasefire, a way for us to vote for peace and a way for us to vote against war.”

Trump won the state by just 11,000 votes in 2016 over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lost the state four years later by nearly 154,000 votes to Biden. Alawieh said the “uncommitted” effort wants to show that they have at least the number of votes that were Trump’s margin of victory in 2016, to demonstrate how influential that bloc can be.

“The situation in Gaza is top of mind for a lot of people here,” Alawieh said. “President Biden is failing to provide voters for whom the war crimes that are being inflicted by our US taxpayer dollars – he’s failing to provide them with something to vote for.”

Our Revolution, the organizing group once tied to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has also urged progressive voters to choose “uncommitted” on Tuesday, saying it would send a message to Biden to “change course NOW on Gaza or else risk losing Michigan to Trump in November.”

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a Biden backer who held several meetings and listening sessions in Michigan late last week, said he told community members that, despite his disagreements over the war, he would nonetheless support Biden because he represents a much better chance of peace in the Middle East than Trump.

“I also said that I admire those who are using their ballot in a quintessentially American way to bring about a change in policy,” Khanna said Monday, adding that Biden supporters need to proactively engage with the uncommitted voters to try and “earn back their trust.”

“The worst thing we can do is try to shame them or try to downplay their efforts,” he said.

Trump has drawn enthusiastic crowds at most of his rallies, including a Feb. 17 rally outside Detroit drawing more than 2,000 people who packed into a frigid airplane hangar.

But data from AP VoteCast, a series of surveys of Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, reveals that his core voters so far are overwhelmingly white, mostly older than 50 and generally without a college degree. He will likely have to appeal to a far more diverse group of voters in November. And he has underperformed his statewide results in suburban areas that are critical in states like Michigan.

Several of Trump’s favored picks in Michigan's 2022 midterm contests lost their campaigns, further underscoring his loss of political influence in the state. Meanwhile, the state GOP has been riven with divisions among various pro-Trump factions, potentially weakening its power at a time when Michigan Republicans are trying to lay the groundwork to defeat Biden this fall.

Both Biden and Trump have so far dominated their respective primary bids. Biden has sailed to wins in South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire, with the latter victory coming in through a write-in campaign. Trump has swept all the early state contests and his team is hoping to lock up the delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination by mid-March.

Nonetheless, an undeterred Haley has promised to continue her longshot presidential primary campaign through at least Super Tuesday on March 5, when 15 states and one territory hold their nominating contests.

As Haley stumped across Michigan on Sunday and Monday, voters showing up to her events expressed enthusiasm for her in Tuesday’s primary -- even though, given her losses in the year’s first four states, it seemed increasingly likely she wouldn’t win the nomination.


Bird-feed Loaf and a Date Wrapped in Gauze: What Children Eat in Gaza

Palestinian woman Warda Mattar feeds her newborn dates, instead of milk, amidst food scarcity and lack of milk, at a school where they shelter in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Doaa Ruqqa
Palestinian woman Warda Mattar feeds her newborn dates, instead of milk, amidst food scarcity and lack of milk, at a school where they shelter in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Doaa Ruqqa
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Bird-feed Loaf and a Date Wrapped in Gauze: What Children Eat in Gaza

Palestinian woman Warda Mattar feeds her newborn dates, instead of milk, amidst food scarcity and lack of milk, at a school where they shelter in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Doaa Ruqqa
Palestinian woman Warda Mattar feeds her newborn dates, instead of milk, amidst food scarcity and lack of milk, at a school where they shelter in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip February 25, 2024. REUTERS/Doaa Ruqqa

After surviving on bitter loaves made from animal feed instead of proper flour, three young brothers who fled their home in Gaza City for a tent further south were tucking into a tub of halawa, a sweet crumbly paste.
Seraj Shehada, 8, and his brothers Ismail, 9, and Saad, 11, said they had run away in secret to take refuge with their aunt in her tent in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, because there was nothing to eat in Gaza City.
"When we were in Gaza City, we used to eat nothing. We would eat every two days," said Seraj Shehada, speaking as the three boys ate the halawa straight out of the tub, with a spoon.
"We would eat bird and donkey food, just anything," he said, referring to loaves made from grains and seeds meant for animal consumption. "Day after day, not this food."
Food shortages have been a problem across the Palestinian enclave since the Oct. 7 start of the war between Israel and Hamas, but are particularly acute in northern Gaza, where aid deliveries have been rarer for longer.
Some of the few aid trucks to reach the north have been mobbed by desperate, hungry crowds, while aid workers have reported seeing people thin and visibly starving with sunken eyes.
In central Gaza, the situation is marginally better, but still far from easy, Reuters reported.
At Al-Nuseirat refugee camp, just north of Deir al-Balah, Warda Mattar, a displaced mother sheltering in a school with her two-month-old baby, was giving him a date wrapped in gauze to suck on, for lack of any milk.
"My son is supposed to have milk as a newborn, be it natural milk or formula milk, but I wasn't able to get him milk, because there is no milk in Gaza," said Mattar.
"I resorted to dates to keep my son quiet," she said.
'ONE SMALL LOAF EVERY TWO DAYS'
In the tent in Deir al-Balah, the three brothers said they had lost their mother, another brother and several aunts in the war. They were left with their father and grandmother, and almost nothing to eat apart from loaves made from animal feed, said the eldest brother, Saad Shehada.
"It was bitter. We didn't want to eat it. We were forced to eat it, one small loaf every two days," he said, adding that they drank salty water and got sick, and there was no way to wash themselves or their clothes.
"We secretly came to Deir al-Balah. We did not tell our father," he said.
The boys' aunt, Eman Shehada, was caring for them as best she could. Heavily pregnant, she said she had lost her husband in the war and was left alone with her daughter, a toddler.
"I am not getting the nutrition needed, so I feel tired and dizzy," she said.
She cannot afford even to buy a kilo of potatoes.
"I don't know how to manage our affairs with these three kids, my daughter, and I am pregnant, I can give birth at any moment."


Syrians Vital in Turkish Local Elections

Syrian-owned shops in Türkiye were subjected to acts of vandalism by Turkish nationals due to incitement by the opposition during the May elections (Archive Photo)
Syrian-owned shops in Türkiye were subjected to acts of vandalism by Turkish nationals due to incitement by the opposition during the May elections (Archive Photo)
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Syrians Vital in Turkish Local Elections

Syrian-owned shops in Türkiye were subjected to acts of vandalism by Turkish nationals due to incitement by the opposition during the May elections (Archive Photo)
Syrian-owned shops in Türkiye were subjected to acts of vandalism by Turkish nationals due to incitement by the opposition during the May elections (Archive Photo)

As Türkiye gears up for local elections on March 31, Syrians living in the country are making their mark in the political scene.

Since last year’s elections, where they played a significant role, they’ve become essential in shaping political strategies.

This phenomenon, which initially gained traction during the previous local elections in 2019 when the opposition successfully seized key strongholds of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), continues to shape Türkiye’s political discourse and strategy.

On the government’s side, plans are underway to employ migrants, particularly Syrians, in sectors facing labor shortages.

According to reports from the pro-government newspaper “Sabah,” this initiative draws inspiration from the “guest worker” model previously implemented, benefiting primarily Turkish interests.

This move aims to tackle illegal migration and meet workforce demands. Inspired by past initiatives, this plan involves cooperation with migrants’ home countries under Türkiye’s supervision.

Türkiye’s 2024 budget has stirred controversy with its inclusion of measures concerning foreign employment, particularly targeting Syrians. This move has drawn criticism from the opposition, who view it as entrenching the presence of Syrians in Türkiye and preventing their return home.

Meanwhile, right-wing parties have intensified their rhetoric against Syrians.

Meral Akşener, leader of the nationalist Good Party, pledged tough actions in neighborhoods with large numbers of refugees, including removing non-Turkish signs.

At a rally for her party’s local election campaign, Akşener also announced plans to carry out urban transformation projects in refugee-inhabited neighborhoods, which would involve demolishing their homes and relocating them elsewhere.

Akşener's comments come after previous remarks by Ümit Özdağ, leader of the Victory Party, who is known for his anti-foreigner stance, especially targeting Syrians.

Özdağ promised tough measures against Syrians, including treating them as “guests” in municipalities won by his party, imposing special rates for utilities, and closing down Syrian businesses.

Despite opposition efforts focusing on the Syrian refugee issue in recent elections, they didn't achieve the desired results, leading to tensions in Turkish society.

Syrians, however, are aware of the situation. Mohammed, who runs a bakery in the Syrian-populated “Esenyurt” area, said they’ve faced increased hostility during elections but are abiding by government decisions to avoid trouble.

Despite the political rhetoric, statistics show Syrian integration into Turkish society is progressing, with more Syrians marrying Turkish nationals in recent years.


Woman Killings Surge in Lebanon: 21 Wives Killed by Husbands in 2023

An initiative by women’s rights organizations in Lebanon titled ‘Enough is Enough’ (KAFA Society)
An initiative by women’s rights organizations in Lebanon titled ‘Enough is Enough’ (KAFA Society)
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Woman Killings Surge in Lebanon: 21 Wives Killed by Husbands in 2023

An initiative by women’s rights organizations in Lebanon titled ‘Enough is Enough’ (KAFA Society)
An initiative by women’s rights organizations in Lebanon titled ‘Enough is Enough’ (KAFA Society)

“After enduring a decade of suffering with her husband, my sister decided to leave him - and he killed her,” Umm Ali told Asharq Al-Awsat, encapsulating the tragic story of Lebanese national Amira Moughnieh, who was murdered by her husband in Australia last June.

“My sister got married at 19 and moved to Australia with her husband. For years, she faced various pressures, including being isolated at home. When she asked for a divorce, he refused, and even mediation failed,” Umm Ali added.

“Finally, when she decided to leave and live elsewhere with her kids, he became threatening and refused to support them. But we never imagined it would end in murder,” she explained.

After Moughnieh initiated divorce proceedings, her husband killed her upon receiving a court notification. Now, he’s in custody awaiting investigation, still denying his actions.

This story, however, is sadly not unique.

In 2023, 21 Lebanese women were killed by their husbands, with more cases reported this year.

This violence against women is exacerbated by societal reactions, often minimizing crimes committed by men while sensationalizing those by women.

Zoya Jreidini, director of anti-violence organization “KAFA”, attributed the rise in such crimes to economic and social instability, compounded by laws that favor male dominance in families.

She emphasized the need for greater awareness and attention to these crimes, which are now being discussed more openly in society and on social media.

Jreidini highlighted the troubling cases of suicide among women in Lebanon, often attributed solely to mental health issues.

However, she noted a positive shift in Lebanese society, with more women seeking help from organizations after experiencing abuse.

Jreidini pointed out a problem in the legal system, where cases of violence against women face delays. She insisted on the need for specialized family courts to deter such crimes.

Regarding legal representation, Jreidini explains that it varies depending on the victim’s family’s choice. Some opt to work with KAFA’s lawyers, while others prefer private attorneys, and some decide not to pursue further legal action.


Dead Horses, Scraps, Leaves: Gaza’s Hungry Get Desperate

A Palestinian girl carrying a plate of lentil soup provided by volunteers in Rafah. (AFP)
A Palestinian girl carrying a plate of lentil soup provided by volunteers in Rafah. (AFP)
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Dead Horses, Scraps, Leaves: Gaza’s Hungry Get Desperate

A Palestinian girl carrying a plate of lentil soup provided by volunteers in Rafah. (AFP)
A Palestinian girl carrying a plate of lentil soup provided by volunteers in Rafah. (AFP)

At the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Abu Gibril was so desperate for food to feed his family that he slaughtered two of his horses.

“We had no other choice but to slaughter the horses to feed the children. Hunger is killing us,” he said.

Jabalia was the biggest camp in the Palestinian territories before the war, which began after Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, leaving some 1,160 dead, based on Israeli figures.

Gibril, 60, fled there from nearby Beit Hanun when the conflict erupted. Home for him and his family is now a tent near what was a UN-run school.

Contaminated water, power cuts and overcrowding were already a problem in the densely populated camp, which was set up in 1948 and covers just 1.4 square kilometers.

Poverty, from high unemployment, was also an issue among its more than 100,000 people.

Now food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get in to the area because of the bombing — and the frenzied looting of the few trucks that try to get through.

The World Food Program this week said its teams reported “unprecedented levels of desperation” while the UN warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.

On Friday, the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said a two-month-old baby died of malnutrition in hospital in Gaza City, 7 km away from Jabalia.

In the camp, bedraggled children wait expectantly, holding plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food is available.

With supplies dwindling, costs are rising. A kilo of rice, for example, has shot up from seven shekels ($1.90) to 55 shekels, complains one man.

“We the grown-ups can still make it but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?” he said angrily.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that the alarming lack of food, surging malnutrition and disease could lead to an “explosion” in child deaths in Gaza.

One in six children aged under two in Gaza was acutely malnourished, it estimated on Feb. 19.

Residents have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves to try to stave off the growing hunger pangs.

“There is no food, no wheat, no drinking water,” said one woman.

“We have started begging neighbors for money. We don’t have one shekel at home. We knock on doors and no one is giving us money.”

Tempers are rising in Jabalia about the lack of food and the consequences. On Friday, an impromptu protest was held involving dozens of people.

One child held up a sign reading: “We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger.”

Another held aloft a placard warning “Famine eats away at our flesh,” while protesters chanted “No to starvation. No to genocide. No to blockade.”

Over the weeks and months, Israel’s relentless bombardment has left Gaza largely a place of shattered concrete and lives.

Gibril kept the radical decision to slaughter his horses to himself, boiling the meat with rice, and giving it to his unwitting family and neighbors.

Despite the necessity, he said he was still wary of their reaction. “No one knows they were in fact eating a horse.”


Economy Another Victim of War in Impoverished Sudan

Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)
Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)
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Economy Another Victim of War in Impoverished Sudan

Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)
Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)

Before the Sudanese army and paramilitary fighters turned their guns on each other last year, Ahmed used to sell one of Sudan's main exports: gum arabic, a vital ingredient for global industry.

Now he's out of business, and his story encapsulates the broader economic collapse of Sudan during 10 months of war.

Since combat between two rival generals began on April 15, Ahmed has been at the fighters' mercy.

"When the war began, I had a stock of gum arabic in a warehouse south of Khartoum that was intended for export," Ahmed told AFP, asking to use only his first name for fear of retaliation.

"To get it out I had to pay huge sums to the Rapid Support Forces," the paramilitaries commanded by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo who are at war with the Sudanese Armed Forces led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

"I had to pay multiple times in areas under their control, before my cargo got to areas controlled by the government," Ahmed said.

But the government -- loyal to the army -- "then demanded I pay taxes" on the product, an emulsifying agent used in everything from soft drinks to chewing gum.

When the trucks finally made it to Port Sudan for export on the Red Sea, "authorities again asked for new taxes, and I had to pay storage fees six times more than before the war", Ahmed said.

His gum arabic -- like many other Sudanese products -- never made it onto a ship. According to Sudan's port authorities, international trade fell 23 percent last year.

The finance ministry, which didn't set a national budget for 2023 or 2024 and has foregone quarterly reports, recently raised the exchange rate for imports and exports from 650 Sudanese pounds to 950.

But that is still far below the currency's real value.

With most banks out of service, the only exchange rate that matters to ordinary Sudanese is on the black market, where the dollar currently goes for around 1,200 Sudanese pounds.

"It's a sign of the destruction of the Sudanese economy," former Sudanese Chamber of Commerce head al-Sadiq Jalal told AFP.

To make matters worse, a communications blackout since early February has hampered online transactions -- which Sudanese relied on to survive.

The war has led industries to cease production. Others were destroyed. Businesses and food stocks have been looted.

The World Bank in September said "widespread destruction of Sudan's economic foundations has set the country's development back by several decades".

The International Monetary Fund has predicted that even after the fighting ends, "years of reconstruction" await the northeast African country.

Sudan suffered under a crippled economy for decades and was already one of the world's poorest countries before the war.

Under the regime of strongman Omar al-Bashir, international sanctions throttled development, corruption was rampant, and South Sudan split in 2011 with most of the country's oil production.

Bashir's ouster by the military in 2019 following mass protests led to a fragile transition to civilian rule accompanied by signs of economic renewal and international acceptance.

A 2021 coup by Burhan and Daglo, before they turned on each other, began a new economic collapse when the World Bank and the United States suspended vital international aid.

More than six million of Sudan's 48 million people have been internally displaced by the war, and more than half the population needs humanitarian aid to survive, according to the United Nations.

Thousands of people have been killed, including between 10,000 and 15,000 in a single city in the western Darfur region, according to UN experts.

Now the indirect death toll is also rising.

Aid agencies have long warned of impending famine, and the UN's World Food Program is "already receiving reports of people dying of starvation", the agency's Sudan director Eddie Rowe said in early February.

The Sudanese state "is completely absent from the scene" in all sectors, economist Haitham Fathy told AFP.

Chief among those is agriculture, which could have helped stave off hunger.

Before the war, agriculture generated 35-40 percent of Sudan's gross domestic product, according to the World Bank, and employed 70-80 percent of the workforce in rural areas, the International Fund for Agricultural Development said.

But the war has left more than 60 percent of the nation's agricultural land out of commission, according to Sudanese research organization Fikra for Studies and Development.

In the wheat-growing state of al-Jazira, where RSF fighters took over swathes of farmland south of Khartoum, farmers have been unable to tend their crops. They saw their livelihoods wither away.

From the wheat fields to Ahmed's gum arabic warehouse, the story is the same.

His savings spent, his stock gone and his future bleak, Ahmed -- like much of Sudan's business class -- has closed up shop.