After 12 Years of War, Women Outnumber Men in Syria

Women walk the streets of Damascus on a rainy day. (SANA)
Women walk the streets of Damascus on a rainy day. (SANA)
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After 12 Years of War, Women Outnumber Men in Syria

Women walk the streets of Damascus on a rainy day. (SANA)
Women walk the streets of Damascus on a rainy day. (SANA)

A walk in the streets of Damascus is enough for a person to notice the predominance of women and absence of men in the war-torn country. Where have the men gone?

After 12 years of war tens of thousands of men joined the army and many others were killed or forced to flee the country, leaving behind the women, who now outnumber their male counterparts.

Syria has not held a census since 2004, but a 2023 study by the Jusoor for Studies center showed that Syria’s population stood at 26.7 million people, including over 9 million residing abroad.

A source at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor said women now make up 60 percent of the population.

Speaking to the Arab World Press (AWP) on condition of anonymity, the source added: “More women have joined the workforce so that life could go on in the country.”

Women outnumber men seven to one in the market, he revealed, predicting the figure will rise to ten to one in the future.

Unmarried women

The war has created countless problems in Syria, including a drop in marriages. Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Salwa Abdullah revealed in 2021 that less and less men have been marrying, raising the number of unmarried women to over 70 percent.

“Who will I marry?” wondered architect Susan, 33, who hails from a small town in the coastal Tartus province.

“There are no men left in our cities. The only men we see are the posters of martyrs whose images are plastered all over the walls. The only male voices we hear are the ones over the telephones of loved ones living abroad,” she added.

She said not a single women has a ring on her finger to signify an engagement or marriage. “Only a lucky few have nabbed a husband,” she remarked.

Moreover, she revealed a new trend in nearby villages where women are agreeing to become the second wife of already married men. She spoke of her shock when she learned that her friend agreed to marry a man 25 years her senior.

A judicial source told AWP that 40 percent of new marriage licenses in Damascus are actually applications for a second marriage.

Sociologist Nasry Kayali said one of the consequences of the war has been the rise in polygamy.

The war has led to a large discrepancy between men and women, so some women have reluctantly agreed to a polygamous marriage in spite of its downsides, he went on to say.

He warned that the imbalance between men and women will have economic and social repercussions in Syria and transform it from a young to an aging society.

Military service

Rayan, 28, a recent graduate in Damascus revealed that he didn’t earn enough grades that allow him to pursue higher studies, which would allow him to be temporarily exempt from mandatory military service.

“It is a disaster. I can no longer delay my enlistment,” he lamented.

“Life here isn’t fair. When you don’t have enough money to flee abroad, you are forced to join the army,” he added. “You are forced to put your dreams, plans and ambitions on hold.”

The Syrian constitution describes military service as a “sacred duty”. Once they turn 18, every able-bodied male has to enlist in the army for 18 months to two years of service. After they are discharged, they remain reservists for a period of around seven years.

However, the war led to amendments to the enlistment laws, making it so the reserve period could stretch beyond seven years, meaning any male could be called up for the military. This has forced several Syrians to flee abroad rather than join the army and its perils during war.

Rayan revealed that he will seek refuge in Lebanon to avoid military service. “I don’t want to leave my country, but I couldn't find any other option,” he said, adding that once in Lebanon, he will seek passage to Türkiye.

Immigration

Abdullah, 40, is one of millions of Syrians who could no longer tolerate the crippling economic crisis and unemployment in their country. Immigration has become an “inescapable” option, he said.

Abdullah works as an accountant for an import and export company in Damascus. He said his salary isn’t enough to support him, his wife and two children for more than three days. He has so far been unsuccessful in finding a second job.

He revealed that the family needs at least 6 million Syrian pounds (roughly 430 dollars) to buy essentials each month. He said he was forced to sell some of his wife’s gold jewelry to make ends meet. “Now, we no longer have anything to sell,” he remarked.

His wife, Mariam, 35, said she is not opposed to her husband traveling abroad to earn a better living.

She stated that two of her work colleagues also have husbands who have sought opportunities abroad given the dire conditions in Syria.

She noted that the lowest salary her husband could earn abroad is much better than the meager wages in Syria, which she said barely cover transportation expenses.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said the conflict in Syria has plunged nearly 90 percent of the population in poverty.



EU and Israel in War of Words as Ties Nosedive Ahead of Spain, Ireland Recognizing Palestinian State

(L-R) Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares and Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth speak during a press conference on the recognition of Palestinian statehood, at the Spanish representation office in Brussels, Belgium, 27 May 2024. (EPA)
(L-R) Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares and Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth speak during a press conference on the recognition of Palestinian statehood, at the Spanish representation office in Brussels, Belgium, 27 May 2024. (EPA)
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EU and Israel in War of Words as Ties Nosedive Ahead of Spain, Ireland Recognizing Palestinian State

(L-R) Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares and Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth speak during a press conference on the recognition of Palestinian statehood, at the Spanish representation office in Brussels, Belgium, 27 May 2024. (EPA)
(L-R) Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares and Norway's Foreign Minister Espen Barth speak during a press conference on the recognition of Palestinian statehood, at the Spanish representation office in Brussels, Belgium, 27 May 2024. (EPA)

Relations between the European Union and Israel took a nosedive Monday, the eve of the diplomatic recognition of a Palestinian state by EU members Ireland and Spain, with Madrid insisting that sanctions should be considered against Israel for its continued deadly attacks in southern Gaza's city of Rafah.

In tit-for-tat comments and diplomatic actions, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Spain that its consulate in Jerusalem will not be allowed to help Palestinians.

At the same time, the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell threw his full weight to support the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor is seeking an arrest warrant against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others, including the leaders of the Hamas group.

"The prosecutor of the court has been strongly intimidated and accused of antisemitism — as always when anybody, anyone does something that Netanyahu’s government does not like," Borrell said. "The word antisemitic, it's too heavy. It's too important."

Angry words abounded Monday, with Katz accusing Spain of "rewarding terror" by recognizing a Palestinian state, and saying that "the days of the Inquisition are over." He referred to the infamous Spanish institution started in the 15th century to maintain Roman Catholic orthodoxy that forced Jews and Muslims to flee, convert to Catholicism or, in some instances, face death.

"No one will force us to convert our religion or threaten our existence — those who harm us, we will harm in return," said Katz.

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares slammed the comments, and said his colleagues from Ireland and non-EU member Norway were "also receiving absolutely unjustified and absolutely reprehensible provocations from our Israeli colleague" because of their plans to recognize Palestine.

"In the face of those who want to divide us with any type of intimidating propaganda, the unity of Europeans is essential to send a very powerful message," he said.

Even though the EU and its member nations have been steadfast in condemning the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in which gunmen stormed across the Gaza border into Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking some 250 hostage, the bloc has been equally critical of Israel’s ensuing offensive that has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

The latest attacks have centered on Rafah, where Palestinian health workers said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 35 people Sunday, hit tents for displaced people and left "numerous" others trapped in flaming debris.

Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto said that such strikes will have long-standing repercussions. "Israel with this choice is spreading hatred, rooting hatred that will involve their children and grandchildren. I would have preferred another decision," he told SKY TG24.

The strikes came after the UN's top court, the International Court of Justice, on Friday demanded that Israel immediately halt its offensive on Rafah, even if it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire for the Gaza enclave.

Albares said that Spain and other countries asked Borrell "to provide a list of what measures the European Union could apply" to make Israel heed the ICJ’s ruling and explain what the EU has done in the past in similar circumstances "when there has been a flagrant violation of international law."

Spain, Ireland and Norway plan to make official their recognition of a Palestinian state on Tuesday. Their joint announcement last week triggered an angry response from Israeli authorities, which summoned the countries' ambassadors in Tel Aviv to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, where they were filmed while being shown videos of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and abductions.

While dozens of countries have recognized a Palestinian state, none of the major Western powers has done so, and it is unclear how much of a difference the move by the three countries might make on the ground. The recognition, however, is a significant accomplishment for the Palestinians, who believe it confers international legitimacy on their struggle.

Albares criticized the treatment of the European ambassadors in Israel. "We reject something that is not within diplomatic courtesy and the customs of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," he said.

"But at the same time we have also agreed that we are not going to fall for any provocation that distances us from our goal," he added. "Our aim is to recognize the state of Palestine tomorrow, make all possible efforts to achieve a permanent ceasefire as soon as possible and also, in the end, to achieve that definitive peace."


Southern Lebanon: Recruitment Ground for Hezbollah Fighters

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of the southern Lebanese village of Alma al-Shaab near the border on May 22, 2024. (AFP)
Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of the southern Lebanese village of Alma al-Shaab near the border on May 22, 2024. (AFP)
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Southern Lebanon: Recruitment Ground for Hezbollah Fighters

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of the southern Lebanese village of Alma al-Shaab near the border on May 22, 2024. (AFP)
Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of the southern Lebanese village of Alma al-Shaab near the border on May 22, 2024. (AFP)

Southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, has long been where the Iran-backed Shiite party recruits new members.

Since the eruption of the war on Gaza in October and Hezbollah joining the fight against Israel, the party has lost 308 members: 50 from the eastern Bekaa region and rest from the South.

The figure reflects the extent to which the residents of the South are involved in this war and have been involved in all wars waged by Hezbollah against Israel from the South.

Israel occupied southern Lebanon for years until 2000 so the residents of the area are more involved in the conflict than other people, especially Shiites who live in other regions but who are also supporters of Hezbollah and its ally the Shiite Amal movement.

The movement has lost 18 members in the war so far.

A study by Information International showed that since the eruption of the conflict in the South and until May 22, the 305 Hezbollah members killed in the fighting hail from 142 cities and villages. The majority, 12, hail from Kfarkila, nine from each of Aita al-Shaab and Markaba, and eight from each of Aitaroun, Blida and al-Tayba. All of these areas are in the South.

Fifty-two percent of the dead are aged between 20 and 35.

Political analyst and Hezbollah critic Ali al-Amine, who also hails from the South, said the majority of Hezbollah fighters who have been killed in the fighting are from the region.

This is primarily because the majority of Shiites in Lebanon are from the South where Hezbollah has heavy military, security and social presence, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Moreover, the nature of the war does not demand the participation of a large number of fighters. The party is launching rockets, while Israel is retaliating with targeted assassinations and strikes.

So, Hezbollah had no need to call up fighters or recruit new ones, in contrast to the war in Syria where it deployed its members more heavily on the ground, added al-Amine.

On how much the residents of the South will be able to withstand the human and material losses of the war, he explained that Hezbollah is the ruling security, political and economic authority in the South. The locals have no other side, except for the party, to turn to that can compensate them for these losses.

He revealed that relatives of any victim, whether killed or injured, will receive direct compensation of $25,000, a permanent salary, health insurance and other benefits from the party.

No one is objecting to this because the relatives would not only have lost their loved ones, but also stand to lose the financial assistance from Hezbollah, he went on to say.

Furthermore, al-Amine noted that beyond the relatives of the victims, “Lebanese society is not really concerned with Hezbollah’s fight. The Shiite general public also doesn’t believe that this war represents them.”

“They see it as limited to the job Hezbollah has always told them it is carrying out and that is preventing a war and protecting towns from Israeli aggression. However, the opposite is actually happening. Villages have been destroyed and nothing has been protected. Hezbollah became embroiled in a war without taking into account the opinions of the people and their interests,” he stressed.


Lebanon Front: Drones Define ‘War of Attrition’

Israeli strike targets a Hezbollah site (Reuters)
Israeli strike targets a Hezbollah site (Reuters)
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Lebanon Front: Drones Define ‘War of Attrition’

Israeli strike targets a Hezbollah site (Reuters)
Israeli strike targets a Hezbollah site (Reuters)

Israel has increased its operations in Lebanon, systematically targeting Hezbollah sites and assassinating field commanders. In response, Hezbollah has attacked key Israeli sites.

Both sides have been using new weapons, especially offensive drones, in this ongoing “war of attrition” since October 8.

Hezbollah is sticking to the current rules of engagement to avoid a wider war that Israel seems to be provoking. At the same time, Israel has expanded its airstrikes across southern Lebanon, including the outskirts of Sidon and the Bekaa Valley, areas linked to Hezbollah.

Recently, an Israeli airstrike in the Zahrani area of Sidon killed a Hezbollah member and two Syrian children. Israel has also increased raids on southern towns like Najjarieh and Adlousieh, which are near Sidon and far from the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Israel’s public broadcaster reported that military officials say Iran has provided Hezbollah with advanced air defense systems, based on images from a recently targeted military site.

In response, Hezbollah has deployed new weapons to demonstrate its combat capabilities and create a new “balance of terror” with Israel.

Hezbollah announced it used an armed drone with two S-5 missiles to attack a military site in Metula, northeastern Israel, before the drone exploded. The group also released a video showing the drone approaching the site, launching the missiles, and then exploding.

This introduction of new weapons by Hezbollah doesn’t mean they are preparing to fully open the southern front. Instead, it’s a message to Israel that any military action will be very costly.

Riad Kahwaji, Director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Hezbollah has not used all its weapons from the start.

Instead, it has set its own rules of engagement, limiting its operations to a specific front with Israel.

Kahwaji pointed out that Hezbollah still uses Katyusha and Grad rockets, along with a more powerful modified Grad rocket called the “Burkan.”

He added that Hezbollah’s use of tactical weapons, like Kornet anti-tank missiles, is more effective. This is because the damage from Katyusha and Grad rockets is limited due to Israel’s Iron Dome, which can destroy these rockets in the air.

Hezbollah is filming its attacks on Israeli sites near the Lebanese border for two key reasons:

First, to show its supporters that it can strike back and inflict damage on Israel, responding to the assassinations of its leaders.

Second, to psychologically impact the Israeli side.

Recently, Hezbollah reported targeting an Israeli military position at Rwaisat al-Qarn in the Shebaa Farms with a guided missile, causing fires at the site.

Kahwaji explained that Hezbollah’s use of guided missiles and kamikaze drones has effectively caused Israeli casualties. He added that as targets get closer to the Lebanese border, Israel’s ability to intercept these attacks decreases.


Divisions, Elections and Assad Lay Bare Europe's Syrian Quagmire

This handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian refugees returning from Lebanon to their country through the al-Zamrani crossing on May 14, 2024. (Photo by SANA / AFP)
This handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian refugees returning from Lebanon to their country through the al-Zamrani crossing on May 14, 2024. (Photo by SANA / AFP)
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Divisions, Elections and Assad Lay Bare Europe's Syrian Quagmire

This handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian refugees returning from Lebanon to their country through the al-Zamrani crossing on May 14, 2024. (Photo by SANA / AFP)
This handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrian refugees returning from Lebanon to their country through the al-Zamrani crossing on May 14, 2024. (Photo by SANA / AFP)

The European Union will convene donors next week to keep Syria on the global agenda, but as the economic and social burden of refugees on neighboring countries mounts the bloc is divided and unable to find solutions to tackle the issue, diplomats say.
Syria has become a forgotten crisis that nobody wants to stir amid the war raging between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group and tensions growing between Iran and Western powers over its regional activities.
More than 5 million refugees mostly in Lebanon and Türkiye and millions more displaced internally have little prospect of returning home with political stability no closer than since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule began in 2011, Reuters said.
Funding to support them is dropping with the likes of the World Food Programme reducing its aid. Difficulties to host refugees are surfacing, notably in Lebanon, where the economic situation is perilous and a call to send Syrians home is one of the rare issues that unites all communities.
"We have no levers because we never resumed relations with the Assad regime and there are no indications anybody really will," said a former European envoy to Syria.
"Even if we did, why would Syria offer carrots to countries that have been hostile to him and especially taking back people who opposed him anyway."
Major European and Arab ministers along with key international organizations meet for the 8th Syria conference next Monday, but beyond vague promises and financial pledges, there are few signs that Europe can take the lead.
The talks come just ahead of the European elections on June 6-9 in which migration is a divisive issue among the bloc's 27-member states. With far-right and populist parties already expected to do well, there is little appetite to step up refugee support.
The conference itself has changed from eight years ago. The level of participation has been downgraded. The likes of Russia, the key actor backing Assad, is no longer invited after its invasion of Ukraine. The global geopolitical situation and drop in the conflict's intensity keeps it off radars.
There are divisions within the EU on the subject. Some countries such as Italy and Cyprus are more open to having a form of dialogue with Assad to at least discuss possible ways to step up voluntary returns in conjunction with and under the auspices of the United Nations.
However, others, like France which acknowledges the pressure the refugees are weighing on Lebanon and fears broader conflict between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel, remain steadfast that there can be no discussion with the Assad regime until key conditions are met.
DEPORTATION TO EU MIGRATION
But the reality on the ground is forcing a discussion on the issue.
Demonstrating the tensions between the EU and the countries hosting refugees, Lebanese MPs threatened to reject the bloc’s 1 billion euro package announced earlier this month, slamming it as a “bribe” to keep refugees in limbo in Lebanon instead of resettling them permanently in Europe or sending them back home to Syria.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who unlike in previous years is not due to attend the Brussels conference, has said that Beirut would start dealing with the issue itself without proper international assistance.
The result has been an upswing in migrant boats from Lebanon to Europe, with nearby Cyprus and increasingly Italy, too, as the main destinations, prompting some countries to ring alarm bells fearing a flood of new refugees into the bloc.
"Let me be clear, the current situation is not sustainable for Lebanon, it's not sustainable for Cyprus and it's not sustainable for the European Union. It hasn't been sustainable for years," Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said this month during a visit to Lebanon.
Highlighting the divisions in Europe, eight countries - Austria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland - last week issued a joint statement after talks in Cyprus, breaking ranks with the bloc's previous positions.
They argued that the dynamics in Syria had changed and that while political stability did not exist yet, things had evolved sufficiently to "re-evaluate the situation" to find "more effective ways of handling the issue."
"I don't think there will be a big movement in terms of EU attitude, but perhaps some baby steps to engage and see if more can be done in various areas," said a diplomat from one of the countries that attended the talks in Cyprus.
Another was more blunt.
"Come Tuesday Syria will be swept under the carpet and forgotten. The Lebanese will be left to deal with the crisis alone," said a French diplomat.


Mines, Unexploded Ordnance a Daily Menace for Afghanistan's Children

Children gather around a crater after Afghan deminers from the Halo Trust detonated an anti-tank mine in Ghazni province. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP
Children gather around a crater after Afghan deminers from the Halo Trust detonated an anti-tank mine in Ghazni province. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP
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Mines, Unexploded Ordnance a Daily Menace for Afghanistan's Children

Children gather around a crater after Afghan deminers from the Halo Trust detonated an anti-tank mine in Ghazni province. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP
Children gather around a crater after Afghan deminers from the Halo Trust detonated an anti-tank mine in Ghazni province. Wakil KOHSAR / AFP

The black mushroom cloud had barely faded in Ghazni province before kids clustered around the edge of the crater created by the mine, one of the devices that kills a child every other day in Afghanistan.
Afghans have been able to return to fields, schools and roads since the Taliban authorities ended their insurgency and ousted the Western-backed government in 2021, said AFP.
But with new freedom of movement comes the danger of remnants left behind after 40 years of successive conflicts.
Nearly 900 people were killed or wounded by leftover munitions from January 2023 to April this year alone, most of them children, according to UN figures.
The anti-tank mine had been 100 meters from Qach Qala village, south of the provincial capital Ghazni, since the Soviet invasion from 1979 to 1989.
Deminers from the British organization Halo Trust cautiously unearthed then detonated it, the explosion echoing three kilometers (nearly two miles) around.
But before it was set off, a Taliban member roared up to the deminers on his motorcycle.
“Give me that mine!" he demanded. "I'll keep it safe at home. We can use it later when Afghanistan is occupied again."
The mine couldn't be "so dangerous since it hadn't exploded all these years", he insisted, before being pushed back by the deminers.
The Taliban government "is very supportive of demining in this country and wants to conduct clearance as far as it possibly can", said Nick Pond, head of the Mine Action Section of UNAMA, the United Nations mission in Afghanistan.
Demining began in Afghanistan as early as 1988 but, over decades of wars, the country has been re-infested with mines and ordnance.
"It is almost impossible at the moment to predict what the scale of current contamination is," Pond told AFP.
Eighty-two percent of those killed or wounded by the remnant weapons since January 2023 were children, with half of cases involving children playing.
The village of Nokordak, nestled in a bucolic valley, lost two children in late April.
Surrounded by her small children, Shawoo told of how her 14-year-old son Javid was killed by unexploded ordnance.
"He threw a stone at it. He hit it once, then a second time. The third time, the device exploded."
The boy died almost instantly.
The same explosion killed Javid's friend Sakhi Dad, also 14.
"People said there were explosive ordnances around, but nothing like this had ever happened in the village before," said Sakhi Dad's 18-year-old brother, Mohammad Zakir, a lost look in his eyes.
"No one had come to the village to warn the children of the danger."
'Lack of funds'
In Patanaye village, 50 kilometers away, 13-year-old Sayed showed his wounded hand and foot, still in bandages after the explosion in late April that killed his brother Taha, 11, as they were tending their sheep.
"Three, four times I pulled it from his hands. I was shouting at him but he kicked me and hit it on a rock," Sayed told AFP.
These kinds of accidents are all too common, said their father Siraj Ahmad.
Tomorrow, "someone else's son could be killed or handicapped for the rest of their life", he said.
Zabto Mayar, Halo's explosive ordnance disposal officer, said "lack of funds" was a major challenge their work.
So deminers work painstakingly plot by plot, depending on donations.
"The mine action workforce was once 15,500 people around 2011. It is currently 3,000," said Pond.
Other global conflicts have pulled funding away, while Afghanistan has also seen donors pull back after the Taliban takeover, their government unrecognized by any other country.
Mistaken for gold
But Mohammad Hassan, headmaster of a small school in the Deh Qazi hamlet, is still counting on the deminers.
"Even the schoolyard is dangerous for the children because it is not cleared of mines," he said.
"We can't even plant trees here. If we dig, if we bring a tractor or machines to work here, it is really dangerous," he said.
Children in a classroom listened to a lesson aimed at preventing such accidents, the wall plastered with charts of mines or ordnance of all shapes and colors.
"Six months ago on a walk with my friends, we saw a rocket and we immediately told the village elders and they informed the deminers," said 12-year-old Jamil Hasan.
Mines and ordnance can look like playthings to children, said Pond.
The Soviet-era butterfly mine (PFM-1), for example, with its winged shape, "is very attractive to pick up", he said.
Children are also drawn to the "beautiful and modern colors" used in munitions, said Halo unit commander Sayed Hassan Mayar.
Some colors are also deceiving, such as golden-topped ammunition that can look like precious metal to people hunting for scrap to sell in the impoverished country.
"The children usually think it might be gold, and they hit it with a stone or a hammer to take the top part," Pond said.
Danger from remnants of war is also omnipresent for deminers. Halo lost two of their number in early May.
"Sometimes when I go defusing mines, I call my family and tell them I love them, just in case anything happens," said Zabto Mayar.


From Wedding Photographer to Water Queue: Gaza Mother Mourns Lost Dream Life

(MAJDI FATHI/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)
(MAJDI FATHI/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)
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From Wedding Photographer to Water Queue: Gaza Mother Mourns Lost Dream Life

(MAJDI FATHI/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)
(MAJDI FATHI/NURPHOTO/GETTY IMAGES)

Falasteen Abdulati mourns her vanished good life as a wedding photographer as she wearily queues day after day for scarce drinking water in a rubble-strewn street in south Gaza, fearing for the future of her children.

The mother of seven is one of over two million Gazans who struggle to survive in the eighth month of an Israeli siege and invasion after the cross-border Hamas attack, with food, drinking water, medical care and safe shelter hard to find.

"I'm a wedding photographer. Someone like me should be going out and living well and spending money on their children," Abdulati, 35, said, laboriously filling a few buckets with water from a battered barrel in the city of Khan Younis.

"Our life has (been reduced) to the simplest needs. It is work and exhaustion. Nothing else. The dream that I had as a wedding photographer to open a studio and to get cameras and to make people happy, is lost. My dream is lost."

She continued: "Every morning we wake up at 7 o’clock and of course the first thing we think about is water," she said, Reuters reported. "We come here and wait in the long queue, just to fill up four buckets with water. Other than that, our shoulders hurt. There are no men to carry it for us. There is no one but us. Women are the ones working these days."

Israel's assault on the tiny, heavily urbanized coastal enclave has displaced over three-quarters of the 2.3 million Palestinian population and demolished its infrastructure.

"The future of my children that I worked tirelessly for is lost. There are no schools (functioning), no education. There is no more comfort in life," said Abdulati.

"No safety," she added, referring to the threat of shelling or raids that Israel says target Hamas militants holed up in densely-packed residential neighbourhoods.

Abdulati, dressed in a body-length robe and head-covering, said the upheaval of war had turned the lives of Gaza women upside down. "Women are now like men. They work hard just like men. They're no longer comfortable at home."

Her husband is hospitalized with war injuries.

Breathing heavily, she lugged her buckets along a shattered, sand-covered street and up a dingy flight of cement stairs into the family flat. There she heated up the fresh water over a makeshift fire stove in a cluttered, cramped room dark for lack of electricity, watched intently by her young children.

"We are suffering due to a lack of gas because the border crossings are shut," she said, referring to Israel's siege that has severely restricted humanitarian aid shipments into Gaza.

"The water that I filled up must be rationed. I heat it up so I can wash the children, in addition to doing the dishes and washing clothes. The four buckets I can get per day are just not enough. I have to go back again and again."


Israel’s Block of AP Transmission Shows How Ambiguity in Law Could Restrict War Coverage 

This picture shows a building that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment at the Al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
This picture shows a building that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment at the Al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
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Israel’s Block of AP Transmission Shows How Ambiguity in Law Could Restrict War Coverage 

This picture shows a building that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment at the Al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)
This picture shows a building that was destroyed during Israeli bombardment at the Al-Daraj neighborhood in Gaza City on May 21, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. (AFP)

Israel's shutdown and seizure of an Associated Press video camera that provided a live glimpse into Gaza alarmed many journalists, who worried Tuesday about wider implications for coverage of a war largely fought out of the world's sight to begin with.

After widespread condemnation, including a call by the Biden administration for Israel to back off, authorities returned the AP's equipment late Tuesday. Israel had justified its move by saying the agency violated a new media law that bans Al Jazeera, since the Qatari satellite channel is one of thousands of customers that receive live AP video.

By early Wednesday, the AP’s live video of Gaza was back up in Israel.

The camera confiscated earlier, located in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, was not the only one the AP operated in Israel or Gaza — the company would not say how many it uses regularly — nor is the AP the only news organization to do so. Agence France-Presse confirmed it has frequently used such cameras in Israel and also sells its images to Al Jazeera.

“Israel's move to restrict AP's work today is extremely concerning and a clear attack on press freedom,” said Phil Chetwynd, AFP's global news director.

News organizations expressed worry about the potential ambiguity in how Israel's law could be enforced. What, they asked, prevents Israel from shutting down the news cooperative's operations in the country altogether?

“It also could allow Israel to block media coverage of virtually any news event on vague security grounds,” Israel's Foreign Press Association said in a statement.

OTHERS ARE LIKELY WATCHING ISRAEL'S ACTIONS Israel also denies foreign journalists entry into Gaza to cover a war that began following Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks inside the Jewish state, and has been criticized for not doing enough to protect Palestinian journalists and civilians.

The country “seems to be grasping at anything that hurts Al Jazeera,” said Thomas Kent, former president and CEO of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and an international consultant on media ethics. Its latest step damages a reputable news organization at a time the country would seem to want independent news coverage, Kent said.

A democracy acting in this way also sends a disturbing signal to authoritarian countries, he said. “You have to look at the larger picture,” said Kent, also a former standards editor and international correspondent at the AP. “They're giving fuel to other countries that would love to seize equipment and shut down transmissions.”

The move against the AP set off a debate within Israel. Yair Lapid, opposition leader to the Netanyahu government, called it an “act of madness.” Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, who accused the AP of violating the country’s law, said it clearly states that any device used to deliver content to Al Jazeera could be seized.

“We will continue to act decisively against anyone who tries to harm our soldiers and the security of the state, even if you don’t like it,” Karhi responded to Lapid on X.

The AP's camera in Sderot was operated 24 hours a day and was also attended by staff members. A staffer can be used to move or focus the camera to cover news that may be happening, and also to avoid capturing military moves. The AP says it complies with military censorship rules that prohibit the broadcast of troop movements that could endanger soldiers.

STATIONARY CAMERAS ARE COMMON News organizations frequently place cameras that can operate remotely at various places around the globe, either in an area where news is happening or simply to provide a view of a city skyline.

These shots have many uses — providing a backdrop for a television station reporting on developments, or as a livestream feature on a website. Earlier in the Gaza war, footage from such cameras helped news organizations conduct forensic investigations into who was responsible for a military strike on a Palestinian hospital.

The AP is the biggest supplier of live video news coverage to newsrooms across the world, said AP Vice President Paul Haven, the agency's head of news gathering.

“Our live video provides a window of what's happening around the world on any given day, allowing audiences to see events for themselves as they unfold,” Haven said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was “deeply disturbed” by Israel's actions on Tuesday. Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ program director, said the country should allow all international media outlets, including Al Jazeera, to operate freely in the country.

While Israel's return of the equipment is a positive development, the underlying issue has not disappeared.

“We remain concerned about the Israeli government's use of the foreign broadcaster law and the ability of independent journalists to operate freely in Israel,” said AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton.


Death of Iran’s Raisi Could Stir Race for Khamenei Succession, Insiders Say 

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei receives President Ebrahim Raisi and members of the government in August. (dpa)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei receives President Ebrahim Raisi and members of the government in August. (dpa)
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Death of Iran’s Raisi Could Stir Race for Khamenei Succession, Insiders Say 

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei receives President Ebrahim Raisi and members of the government in August. (dpa)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei receives President Ebrahim Raisi and members of the government in August. (dpa)

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi's death in a helicopter crash upsets the plans of hardliners who wanted him to succeed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and will stir rivalries in their camp over who will take over the country when he dies.

A protege of Khamenei who rose through the ranks of Iran's theocracy, Raisi, 63, was widely seen as a leading candidate to take over from the 85-year-old Supreme Leader - though it was far from being a foregone conclusion in Iran's opaque politics.

His rise to the presidency was part of a consolidation of power in the hands of hardliners dedicated to shoring up the pillars of the Islamic Republic against the risks posed by dissent at home and powerful enemies in a turbulent region.

Raisi had enjoyed staunch backing from Khamenei, who had himself held the position of president before he became Supreme Leader in 1989 following the death of the Islamic Republic's founder, Khomeini.

The Supreme Leader holds ultimate power in Iran, acting as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and deciding on the direction of foreign policy, defined largely by confrontation with the United States and Israel.

While Khamenei has not endorsed a successor, Iran watchers say Raisi was one of the two names most often mentioned, the second being Khamenei's second son, Mojtaba, who is widely believed to wield influence behind the scenes.

Raisi, backed by a group that wanted to see him become Supreme Leader, clearly wanted the role, said Vali Nasr, professor of Middle East Studies and International Affairs at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

"Now they don't have a candidate, and that opens the door for other factions or other figures to emerge as serious contenders," he said.

For Raisi, a mid-ranking Shiite cleric, the presidency had been a vehicle to reach the supreme leadership. "There's no other candidate right now (with) that kind of a platform and that's why the presidential elections in Iran, however they unfold, will be the first decider about what comes next," Nasr said.

'BLOW TO THE ESTABLISHMENT'

Raisi's views echoed Khamenei's on every major topic and he enacted the leader's policies aimed at entrenching clerical power, cracking down on opponents, and adopting a tough line on foreign policy issues such as the nuclear talks with Washington, two Iranian insiders said.

The hardliners maintained their grip in a parliamentary election held in March, but turnout sunk to the lowest level since the revolution.

Critics saw this as reflecting a crisis of legitimacy for the clerical elite, amid mounting economic struggles and dissent among Iranians chafing at the social and political restrictions which drove months of protests ignited by the death of a young woman arrested by the morality police in 2022.

Though his name has often been cited, doubts have swirled over the possible candidacy of Mojtaba, a mid-ranking cleric who teaches theology at a religious seminary in the city of Qom.

Khamenei has indicated opposition to his son's candidacy because he does not want to see any slide back towards a system of hereditary rule in a country where the US-backed monarchy was overthrown in 1979, an Iranian source close to Khamenei's office said.

A regional source familiar with the thinking in Tehran said Khamenei's opposition to hereditary rule would eliminate both Mojtaba and Ali Khomeini, a grandson of the Islamic Republic's founder who is based in Najaf, Iraq.

A former Iranian official said powerful actors including the Revolutionary Guards and influential clerics in Qom are now expected to step up efforts to shape the process by which the next supreme leader is picked.

"Raisi's death is a blow to the establishment that has no other candidate now," the official said, adding that while it was believed Raisi had been groomed to succeed Khamenei, nobody knew for sure what Khamenei's intentions were.

UNCERTAINTY IN THE SUCCESSION

Khamenei had not been a clear favorite for the role in 1989 and only emerged after backroom dealings among the clerical elite.

Under Iran's constitution, the Supreme Leader is appointed by the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member clerical body that supervises and in theory can sack the Supreme Leader.

While the Assembly is chosen in an election, another hardline watchdog body comprising clerics and jurists aligned to Khamenei has the power to veto laws and decide who may stand.

Two sources familiar with the matter said the Assembly of Experts had taken Raisi off a list of potential successors some six months ago because of his sagging popularity, reflecting economic hardship caused by US sanctions and mismanagement.

One of the sources said intensive lobbying had been underway by influential, pro-Raisi clerics to get his name reinstated.


What's Next for Iran's Government after Death of its President in Helicopter Crash?

The Iranian flag is seen flying over a street in Tehran, Iran, February 1, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
The Iranian flag is seen flying over a street in Tehran, Iran, February 1, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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What's Next for Iran's Government after Death of its President in Helicopter Crash?

The Iranian flag is seen flying over a street in Tehran, Iran, February 1, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights
The Iranian flag is seen flying over a street in Tehran, Iran, February 1, 2023. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo Purchase Licensing Rights

The death of Iran's president is unlikely to lead to any immediate changes in Iran's ruling system or to its overarching policies, which are decided by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

But Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday, was seen as a prime candidate to succeed the 85-year-old supreme leader, and his death makes it more likely that the job could eventually go to Khamenei's son, The AP reported.

A hereditary succession would pose a potential crisis of legitimacy for the Islamic Republic, which was established as an alternative to monarchy but which many Iranians already see as a corrupt and dictatorial regime. Here's a look at what comes next.

HOW DOES IRAN'S GOVERNMENT WORK?

Iran holds regular elections for president and parliament with universal suffrage.

But the supreme leader has final say on all major policies, serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and controls the powerful Revolutionary Guard.

The supreme leader also appoints half of the 12-member Guardian Council, a clerical body that vets candidates for president, parliament and the Assembly of Experts, an elected body of jurists in charge of choosing the supreme leader.

In theory, the clerics oversee the republic to ensure it complies with Islamic law. In practice, the supreme leader carefully manages the ruling system to balance competing interests, advance his own priorities and ensure that no one challenges the Islamic Republic or his role atop it.

Raisi, a hard-liner who was seen as a protege of Khamenei, was elected president in 2021 after the Guardian Council blocked any other well-known candidate from running against him, and turnout was the lowest in the history of the Islamic Republic. He succeeded Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who had served as president for the past eight years and defeated Raisi in 2017.

After Raisi's death, in accordance with Iran's constitution, Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, a relative unknown, became caretaker president, with elections mandated within 50 days. That vote will likely be carefully managed to produce a president who maintains the status quo.

That means Iran will continue to impose some degree of Islamic rule and crack down on dissent. It will enrich uranium, support armed groups across the Middle East and view the West with deep suspicion.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR SUCCESSION?

Presidents come and go, some more moderate than others, but each operates under the structure of the ruling system.

If any major change occurs in Iran, it is likely to come after the passing of Khamenei, when a new supreme leader will be chosen for only the second time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Khamenei succeeded the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1989.

The next supreme leader will be chosen by the 88-seat Assembly of Experts, who are elected every eight years from candidates vetted by the Guardian Council. In the most recent election, in March, Rouhani was barred from running, while Raisi won a seat.

Any discussion of the succession, or machinations related to it, occur far from the public eye, making it hard to know who may be in the running. But the two people seen by analysts as most likely to succeed Khamenei were Raisi and the supreme leader's own son, Mojtaba, 55, a Shiite cleric who has never held government office.

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE SUPREME LEADER'S SON SUCCEEDS HIM?

Leaders of the Islamic Republic going back to the 1979 revolution have portrayed their system as superior.

The transfer of power from the supreme leader to his son could spark anger, not only among Iranians who are already critical of clerical rule, but supporters of the system who might see it as un-Islamic.

Western sanctions linked to the nuclear program have devastated Iran's economy. And the enforcement of Islamic rule, which grew more severe under Raisi, has further alienated women and young people.

The Islamic Republic has faced several waves of popular protests in recent years, most recently after the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly not covering her hair in public. More than 500 people were killed and over 22,000 were detained in a violent crackdown.

Raisi's death may make the transition to a new supreme leader trickier, and it could spark more unrest.

 

 

 

 

 

 


What Happens after ICC Prosecutor Seeks Warrants in Israel-Gaza Conflict?

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 (Reuters)
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What Happens after ICC Prosecutor Seeks Warrants in Israel-Gaza Conflict?

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 (Reuters)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to his Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 20, 2024 (Reuters)

The International Criminal Court prosecutor's office has requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense chief, and also for three Hamas leaders for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. Here is a look at what happens next, and how the ICC prosecutor's move might impact diplomatic relations and other court cases focused on Gaza.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT AT ICC?

Prosecutor Karim Khan's request goes to a pre-trial chamber. The chamber will be composed of three magistrates: presiding judge Iulia Motoc of Romania, Mexican judge Maria del Socorro Flores Liera and judge Reine Alapini-Gansou of Benin. There is no deadline for judges to decide whether to issue arrest warrants. In previous cases, judges have taken anywhere from just over a month to several months.

If the judges agree there are "reasonable grounds" to believe war crimes or crimes against humanity have been committed, they will issue an arrest warrant. The warrant must name the person, the specific crimes for which an arrest is sought and a statement of facts which are alleged to constitute those crimes.

Judges can amend arrest warrant requests and grant only portions of what the prosecutor is seeking. Charges can also be changed and updated later.

Israeli and Hamas leaders have dismissed allegations of committing war crimes, and representatives of both sides criticized Khan's decision.

WILL NETANYAHU AND THE HAMAS LEADERS BE ARRESTED?

The ICC's founding Rome statute combined with jurisprudence from past cases involving arrest warrants against sitting heads of state oblige all 124 ICC signatory states to arrest and hand over any individual subject to an ICC arrest warrant if they set foot on their territory. However, the court has no means to enforce an arrest. The sanction for not arresting someone is a referral back to the ICC's assembly of member states and ultimately a referral to the U.N. Security Council.

CAN AN ICC INVESTIGATION OR WARRANT BE PAUSED?

The court's rules allow for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution that would pause or defer an investigation or a prosecution for a year, with the possibility of renewing that indefinitely.

In past cases where a state has ignored its obligation to arrest an individual facing an ICC warrant, they have received a procedural slap on the wrist at most.

CAN NETANYAHU AND HAMAS CHIEF YAHYA SINWAR STILL TRAVEL?

Yes they can. Neither the application for a warrant nor the issuance of an ICC arrest warrant curbs an individual's freedom to travel. However, once an arrest warrant has been issued, they risk arrest if they travel to an ICC signatory state, which may influence their decision-making.

There are no restrictions on political leaders, lawmakers or diplomats from meeting individuals with an ICC arrest warrant against them. Politically, however, the optics of this may be bad.

WILL THIS APPLICATION FOR WARRANTS INFLUENCE OTHER CASES?

Not directly, but perhaps indirectly. The ICC application is a separate matter to, for example, court cases demanding an arms embargo against Israel or South Africa's attempts at the International Court of Justice to seek a halt to Israel's offensive on Rafah.

If the judges decide there are reasonable grounds to believe Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Gaza, it could strengthen legal challenges demanding an arms embargo elsewhere as numerous states have provisions against selling arms to states who might use them in ways that violate international humanitarian law.