Retaken but Not Rebuilt: Syria's Raqqa a Year after ISIS Ouster

A woman walks past a devastated building in the Syrian city of Raqqa on October 13, 2018. (AFP)
A woman walks past a devastated building in the Syrian city of Raqqa on October 13, 2018. (AFP)
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Retaken but Not Rebuilt: Syria's Raqqa a Year after ISIS Ouster

A woman walks past a devastated building in the Syrian city of Raqqa on October 13, 2018. (AFP)
A woman walks past a devastated building in the Syrian city of Raqqa on October 13, 2018. (AFP)

All day, dinghies cross the Euphrates River to shuttle residents into the pulverized cityscape of Syria's Raqqa, where bridges, homes, and schools remain gutted by the offensive against the ISIS group.

Exactly a year has passed since a blistering US-backed assault ousted the terrorists from their one-time Syrian stronghold, but Raqqa -- along with the roads and bridges leading to it -- remains in ruins, said an Agence-France Presse report on Wednesday.

To enter the city, 33-year-old Abu Yazan and his family have to pile into a small boat on the southern banks of the Euphrates, which flows along the bottom edges of Raqqa.

They load their motorcycle onto the small vessel, which bobs precariously north for a few minutes before dropping off passengers and their vehicles at the city's outskirts.

"It's hard -- the kids are always afraid of the constant possibility of drowning," says bearded Abu Yazan.

"We want the bridge to be repaired because it's safer than water transport."

The remains of Raqqa's well-known "Old Bridge" stand nearby: a pair of massive pillars, the top of the structure shorn off.

It was smashed in an air strike by the US-led coalition, which bombed every one of Raqqa's bridges to cut off the terrorists’ escape routes.

The fighting ended on October 17 last year, when the city finally fell to the Syrian Democratic Forces, which then handed it over to the Raqqa Civil Council (RCC) to govern.

But 60 bridges are still destroyed in and around the city, says RCC member Ahmad al-Khodr, according to AFP.

"The coalition has offered us eight metal bridges," he says, to link vital areas in Raqqa's countryside.

Human rights group Amnesty International estimates around 80 percent of Raqqa was devastated by fighting, including vital infrastructure like schools and hospitals.

The national hospital, the city's largest medical facility, was where ISIS made its final stand. It still lies ravaged.

Private homes were not spared either: 30,000 houses were fully destroyed and another 25,000 heavily damaged, says Amnesty.

Ismail al-Muidi lost his son, an SDF fighter, and his home.

"I buried him myself with these two hands," says Muidi, 48.

Now homeless, he lives with his sister in the central Al-Nahda neighborhood.

"The coalition destroyed the whole building, and all our belongings went with them," he says.

Anxiety over eking out a living has put streaks of grey into Muidi's hair and beard.

"How could I rebuild this house? We need help to remove the rubble, but no one has helped us at all," he says.

Since ISIS was ousted, more than 150,000 people have returned to Raqqa, according to United Nations estimates last month.

But the city remains haunted by one of ISIS’ most infamous legacies: a sea of mines and unexploded ordnance that still maims and kills residents to this day, said AFP.

The RCC says it does not have enough money to clear out the rubble still clogging up Raqqa's streets, much less rehabilitate its water and electricity networks.

Khodr unfurls a map of the city in front of him at his office in the RCC, pointing out the most ravaged neighborhoods.

"The districts in the center of the city were more damaged -- 90 percent destroyed -- compared to a range of 40 to 60 percent destroyed in the surrounding areas," he tells AFP.

"The destruction is massive and the support isn't cutting it."

A plastic bucket in hand, Abd al-Ibrahim sits despondently on a curbside in the Al-Ferdaws neighborhood.

Fighting destroyed his home, so he now squats in another house but there has been no water there for three days.

"I come sit here, hoping somebody will drive by to give me water. But no one comes," the 70-year-old says, tearing up.

He points to a mound of rubble nearby.

"My house is like this now. We were in paradise. Look at what happened to us -- we're literally begging for water."

The coalition has helped de-mine, remove rubble, and rehabilitate schools in Raqqa, but efforts have been modest and piecemeal compared to the scale of the destruction.

"You can't call this reconstruction -- it's all empty talk," says Samer Farwati, who peddles cigarettes across from his destroyed house in the Masaken al-Tobb district.

He pays $120 to rent a home since his was hit in an air strike.

Farwati says he no longer trusts officials after too many empty promises.

"If they helped us even a little bit, we could complete the construction. But there's no hope at all," he says.



What Is Needed on Int’l and Regional Levels to Stop the War in Sudan?

 A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)
A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)
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What Is Needed on Int’l and Regional Levels to Stop the War in Sudan?

 A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)
A damaged army tank is seen on the street, almost one year into the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in Omdurman, Sudan, April 7, 2024. (Reuters)

By Rasha Awad

The war in Sudan between the army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) entered its second year with no progress made on reaching a peaceful negotiated solution to the conflict. Some hope appears on the horizon with the announcement that the Jeddah negotiations will resume in Saudi Arabia in two weeks.

On the internal scene, the military escalation has continued on the ground and through military speeches. The situation has raised alarm among experts and observers in Sudan that the country may be headed towards a long war that may lead to the division of the country and the spillover of the conflict into the region, especially in wake of the RSF launching a drone attack on army positions in the eastern city of al-Qadarif.

Eastern Sudan has been largely spared from the war up until the April 9 attack.

Time as a decisive factor

The success of the negotiations will rely heavily on time. If the war stretches on, then new obstacles will emerge that will complicate negotiations. Such complications include defections from the army or RSF.

In this regard, Dr. Bakri al-Jak, official spokesman of the Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum), warned the war could take on regional and ethnic dimensions, instead of its current ideological and political ones.

There is the possibility that the army and RSF leaderships could lose control over their forces on the ground and that the country could be divided into areas of influence and control, which would be the first step in the division of Sudan, he added.

He therefore underscored the need to speed up reaching a negotiated solution and intensifying regional and international contacts in support of peace to avert the prolongation of the war.

Internal political will

Experts estimate that one year of war has cost Sudan 100 billion dollars. Around 90 percent of factories have been destroyed, 65 percent of agricultural production has come to a halt, and 75 percent of the services sector has stopped functioning. Moreover, wasted opportunities have cost Sudan an estimated 200 billion dollars.

Around 14,000 civilians have been killed, thousands are wounded and reported missing and 11 million have been displaced.

As for the military losses, the army and RSF have both refrained from disclosing figures, but the estimates are that they have both incurred heavy losses.

In spite of these massive losses, neither side has demonstrated the political will to turn to a negotiated solution even though the majority of the millions of Sudanese people want peace.

National and regional determination

Like all wars in the region, the conflict in Sudan is unlikely to come to an end without a national drive to reach peace. It should also be coupled with effective regional and international pressure on the warring parties to agree to a negotiated solution.

Writer and analyst Al-Haj Warraq said several factors will determine whether the war will stretch on or wind down. Among them is whether the United States would come with a unified position on Sudan.

He explained that the US is currently deeply divided between Republican and Democrat strategic visions. President Joe Biden’s Democrat administration itself is divided between supporters of the civilian rule in Sudan and others who would opt for empowering the Islamists (National Congress) under the command of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Advocates of civilian rule, meanwhile, continue to propose “empty general slogans” that offer nothing in specific, continued Warraq.

He went on to say that the declared goals of the American administration are “unachievable” because they don’t follow any specific policy and they contradict Sudan’s democratic leanings. In the end, however, several of the cards to end the war lie in American hands.

“So, the civilian democratic forces need to invest in Washington’s openness to draft a specific policy that would guarantee the end of the war, reestablish the democratic system and restore Sudan’s unity based on real federal foundations,” he stressed.

War and gold

Another significant factor in the war are the networks of looting that are funding it, especially the gold miners and smugglers. Besides financing the war, the networks have led to rampant corruption and bribery in the country.

They have played a role in tearing apart the ranks of the civilian forces. The powers pursuing peace must address this problem with the West and seek sanctions on these networks, which would be a step forward in ending the war.

Another factor that should end the war is the unification of the forces of peace and civilian democratic rule. Warraq said that even though Taqaddum was the largest coalition of civilian forces, “it needs to be more open to the people and include new forces and non-partisan figures.”

It also needs to develop its internal structure to make it more effective, he suggested.

The unification of an effective and united movement of civilian democratic forces will help “remove the legitimacy of the war”, said Al-Jak, who stressed the need for the forces to refrain from adopting the narrative of either of the warring parties. Rather, they should work on stopping them.

*Rasha Awad is a Sudanese researcher and spokesperson of Taqaddum.


American Officials: Israeli Strike Was ‘Symbolic’, Chances of Escalation Are Low

Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)
Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)
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American Officials: Israeli Strike Was ‘Symbolic’, Chances of Escalation Are Low

Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)
Marine One carrying US President Joe Biden arrives at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 19, 2024. Biden is traveling to Delaware for the weekend. (AFP)

The American administration has exercised caution over the explosions that were reported near a major air base near Iran’s city of Isfahan.

The White House has not condemned or supported the purported Israeli strike. Reports have said that Israel had informed Washington of its intention to carry out the attack at the last minute.

On Friday, Iran fired air defenses at a major air base and a nuclear site near the central city of Isfahan after spotting drones. They were suspected to be part of an Israeli attack in retaliation for Tehran’s unprecedented drone-and-missile assault on the country last weekend.

A senior American official said Israel had informed the US on Thursday of its plan to avenge the Iranian attack.

The official added that the White House had warned that escalation with Iran would not serve US or Israeli interests. He urged Israel to exercise caution in its retaliation, stressing that ultimately this was an Israeli decision.

Strike aimed at de-escalation

Several analysts and experts described the Israeli strike on Isfahan as “limited”, saying it was aimed at averting a new round of escalation that could push the region to a full-scale war. The attack also took into account American concerns and advice to avoid attacking Iranian nuclear sites.

An attack on nuclear facilities may only push Iran to forge ahead with its nuclear program.

American analysts were unanimous in saying that the Israeli retaliation was “symbolic” and that it sends a message to Iran and allows its regime to claim that Tel Aviv’s attack did not cause damage.

Changing the rules of engagement

US former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told CNN: “There's no question that the rules of engagement have changed.”

“We've just had, not only Israel striking an embassy complex in Damascus, but Iran then striking back with 300 missiles into Israel. And now, Israel has struck at a target in Iran,” he noted.

“It also appears that Israel did pay attention to a lot of the warnings from the world, not to dramatically escalate the response. This was a pretty targeted effort, aimed at hitting a target in Iran near the nuclear facilities, and sending a message to Iran,” he remarked.

“Iran does not appear willing to respond. So, I think the hope is that perhaps we have achieved some kind of rough balance at this point. And that perhaps deterrence has been reestablished,” he stated.

Furthermore, Panetta said developments could possibly unfold along two paths. The first path, which he said was better for Israel, would be for bolstering the Israeli coalition with the US, European countries and regional powers to end the war in Gaza and the terrible humanitarian crisis there.

“That's the hopeful path,” he added.

“The path of concern is that if anything happens here and in foreign policy in that part of the world - there is always miscalculations. What Israel did show is that they could penetrate Iran and that Iran could not take defensive action,” he noted.

“So, there are a lot of questions that have been raised here as a result of these efforts. And the question is going to be whether the Iranian leadership wants to maintain a period of balance or whether or not they're going to continue to try to hit each other,” he explained.

Former Assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs General Mark Kimmitt told CNN that Israel succeeded in breaching Iran’s air defenses without anyone noticing and then it carried out an attack near nuclear sites that Iran wants to protect.

The message was if Iran wanted to escalate then it will have a lot to lose, he added. The Iranians seem to have understood that and they also understood the messages of de-escalation from the US, Germany and other partners.

Ease of escalation

Former US Ambassador Dennis Ross said that “Israel hit in very limited way in Iran and in Syria,” proving a point that it will respond.

“Iran is acting now as if it deterred Israel from a larger strike,” he added in a post on the X platform. “Both sides made a point and are ready to go back to the shadows for the time-being. But both see how easy it is to escalate.”

Meanwhile, former US National Security Adviser John Bolton slammed the Biden administration over its stance towards Israel and launched a campaign in support of Israel.

“Israel has been under constant attack by Iran and its terrorist proxies since October 7th. Joe Biden turned his back on our ally and continues to recommend the Israelis not defend themselves. I need to know if you stand with Israel or not,” he said in a post on X.


Israel and Iran’s Apparent Strikes and Counterstrikes Give New Insights into Both Militaries

A woman walks past a banner showing missiles being launched, in northern Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP)
A woman walks past a banner showing missiles being launched, in northern Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP)
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Israel and Iran’s Apparent Strikes and Counterstrikes Give New Insights into Both Militaries

A woman walks past a banner showing missiles being launched, in northern Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP)
A woman walks past a banner showing missiles being launched, in northern Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 19, 2024. (AP)

Israel demonstrated its military dominance over adversary Iran in its apparent precision strikes that hit near military and nuclear targets deep in the heart of the country, meeting little significant challenge from Iran's defenses and providing the world with new insights into both militaries' capabilities.

The international community, Israel and Iran all signaled hopes that Friday's airstrikes would end what has been a dangerous 19-day run of strikes and counterstrikes, a highly public test between two deep rivals that had previously stopped short of most direct confrontation.

The move into open fighting began April 1 with the suspected Israeli killing of Iranian generals at an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria. That prompted Iran's retaliatory barrage last weekend of more than 300 missiles and drones that the US, Israel and regional and international partners helped bat down without significant damage in Israel. And then came Friday's apparent Israeli strike.

As all sides took stock, regional security experts predicted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government and the country's allies would emerge encouraged by the Israeli military’s superior performance. In response to international appeals, however, both Israel and Iran had appeared to be holding back their full military force throughout the more than two weeks of hostilities, aiming to send messages rather than escalate to a full-scale war.

Crucially, experts also cautioned that Iran had not brought into the main battle its greatest military advantage over Israel — Hezbollah and other Iran-allied armed groups in the region. Hezbollah in particular is capable of straining Israel’s ability to defend itself, especially in any multifront conflict.

Overall, “the big-picture lesson to take away is that unless Iran does absolutely everything at its disposal all at once, it is just the David, and not the Goliath, in this equation,” said Charles Lister, a senior fellow and longtime regional researcher at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

Aside from those Iranian proxy forces, “the Israelis have every single advantage on every single military level,” Lister said.

In Friday’s attack, Iranian state television said the country's air defense batteries fired in several provinces following reports of drones. Iranian army commander Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi said crews targeted several flying objects.

Lister said it appeared to have been a single mission by a small number of Israeli aircraft. After crossing Syrian airspace, it appears they fired only two or three Blue Sparrow air-to-surface missiles into Iran, most likely from a standoff position in the airspace of Iran's neighbor Iraq, he said.

Iran said its air defenses fired at a major air base near Isfahan. Isfahan also is home to sites associated with Iran’s nuclear program, including its underground Natanz enrichment site, which has been repeatedly targeted by suspected Israeli sabotage attacks.

Israel has not taken responsibility for either the April 1 or Friday strikes.

The Jewish Institute for National Security of America, a Washington-based center that promotes Israeli-US security ties, quickly pointed out that Friday's small strike underscored that Israel could do much more damage “should it decide to launch a larger strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.”

Iran's barrage last weekend, by contrast, appears to have used up most of its 150 long-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel, more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away, said retired Gen. Frank McKenzie, former commander of the US military's Central Command.

Especially given the distance involved and how easy it is for the US and others to track missile deployments by overhead space sensors and regional radar, “it is hard for Iran to generate a bolt from the blue against Israel,” McKenzie said.

Israelis, for their part, have “shown that Israel can now hit Iran from its soil with missiles, maybe even drones,” said Alex Vatanka, director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute.

Iran's performance Friday, meanwhile, may have raised doubts about its ability to defend against such an attack, Vatanka said. Iran is about 80 times the size of Israel and thus has much more territory to defend, he noted.

Plus, Israel demonstrated that it can rally support from powerful regional and international countries to defend against Iran. The US led in helping Israel knock down Iran's missile and drone attack on April 13.

But while the exchange of Israeli-Iran strikes revealed more about Iran's military abilities, Lebanon-based Hezbollah and other Iranian-allied armed groups in Iraq and Syria largely appeared to stay on the sidelines.

Hezbollah is one of the most powerful militias in the region, with tens of thousands of experienced fighters and a massive weapons arsenal.

After an intense war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006 that killed more than a thousand Lebanese civilians and dozens of Israeli civilians, both sides have held back from escalating to another full-scale conflict. But Israel and Hezbollah still routinely fire across the Lebanese-Israeli border during the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Hezbollah “is Iran's only remaining potential advantage in this whole broader equation,” Lister said.

Six months of fighting in Gaza have “completely stretched” Israel's military, he said. “If Hezbollah went all out and launched the vast majority of its rocket and missile arsenal at Israel, all at once, the Israelis would seriously struggle to deal with that.”

And in terms of ground forces, if Hezbollah suddenly opened a second front, the Israel Defense Forces “would be incapable at this point” of fighting full-on with both Hezbollah and Hamas, he said.


Israel’s Iran Attack Carefully Calibrated after Internal Splits, US Pressure

People shop at a bazaar in Iran's central city of Isfahan on April 19, 2024. (IRNA/AFP)
People shop at a bazaar in Iran's central city of Isfahan on April 19, 2024. (IRNA/AFP)
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Israel’s Iran Attack Carefully Calibrated after Internal Splits, US Pressure

People shop at a bazaar in Iran's central city of Isfahan on April 19, 2024. (IRNA/AFP)
People shop at a bazaar in Iran's central city of Isfahan on April 19, 2024. (IRNA/AFP)

Israel's apparent strike on Iran after days of prevarication was small and appeared calibrated to dial back risks of a major war, even if the sheer fact it happened at all shattered a taboo of direct attacks that Tehran broke days earlier.

Netanyahu's war cabinet had initially approved plans for a strike on Monday night inside Iranian territory to respond forcefully to last Saturday's missile and drones from Iran, but held back at the last-minute, three sources with knowledge of the situation said.

By then, the sources said, the three voting members of the war cabinet had already ruled out the most drastic response - a strike on strategic sites including Iran's nuclear facilities whose destruction would almost certainly provoke a wider regional conflict.

Facing cabinet divisions and strong warnings from partners including the United States not to escalate, and aware of the need to keep international opinion on Israel's side, the plans to hit back were then postponed twice, the sources said. Two war cabinet meetings were also delayed twice, government officials said.

Netanyahu's office did not respond to requests for comment for this Reuters story. Before the attack, a spokesperson for the government's National Public Diplomacy Directorate cited Netanyahu as saying Israel would defend itself in whatever way it judged appropriate.

Reuters spoke to a dozen sources in Israel, Iran and the United States, who described six frantic days of efforts to limit the response to Iran's first ever direct attack on its arch rival after decades of shadow war.

Most of the sources asked not to be named to speak about sensitive matters.

The eventual strike on Friday appeared to target an Iranian Air Force base near the city of Isfahan, deep inside the country and close enough to nuclear facilities to send a message of Israel's reach but without using airplanes, ballistic missiles, striking any strategic sites or causing major damage.

Iran said its defense systems shot down three drones over a base near Isfahan early on Friday. Israel said nothing about the incident. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had not been involved in any offensive operations,

An Iranian official told Reuters there were signs the drones were launched from within Iran by "infiltrators," which could obviate the need for retaliation.

A source familiar with western intelligence assessments of the incident also said initial evidence suggested Israel launched drones from inside Iranian territory. Iran's foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

"Israel tried to calibrate between the need to respond and a desire not to enter into a cycle of action and counter reaction that would just escalate endlessly," said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.

He described the situation as a dance, with both parties signaling to each other their intentions and next steps.

"There is huge relief across the Gulf region. It looks like the attack was limited and proportionate and caused limited damage. I see it a de-esclation," veteran Saudi analyst Abdelrahman al-Rashed told Reuters.

BIDEN CALL

The decision to hold back from broader and immediate action this week underlined the competing pressures on Netanyahu's government in the aftermath of the more than 300 drones and ballistic and cruise missiles fired by Iran on Saturday night.

As Iran's barrage unfolded, two members of the war cabinet, Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, both former armed forces commanders, wanted to respond straight away before agreeing to hold off following a call with US President Joe Biden and in the face of differing views from other ministers, two Israeli officials with knowledge of the situation said.

A spokesman for Gantz, a centrist who joined Netanyahu's emergency government following the Hamas-led attack on Israel last October, did not respond to a request for comment.

The US State Department declined to comment to questions about Israel's decision-making. Washington was working to de-escalate tensions, Blinken said on Friday. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aryeh Deri, the head of one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu's coalition, who has observer status in the war cabinet and who has generally been wary of drastic moves, was firmly opposed to an immediate strike against Iran, which he believed could endanger the people of Israel given the risk of escalation, a spokesperson for his party said.

"We should also be listening to our partners, to our friends in the world. I say this clearly: I see no shame or weakness in doing so," Deri told the "Haderech" newspaper.

Israel's options ranged from strikes on strategic Iranian facilities, including nuclear sites or Revolutionary Guards bases, to covert operations, targeted assassinations and cyber-attacks on strategic industrial plants and nuclear facilities, analysts and former officials in Israel have said.

By Thursday, four diplomatic and government sources in the region were expressing confidence that the response would be limited and proportionate.

Ahead of the overnight Israeli strike, one regional source, who had been briefed on Israel's thinking, said the response would aim to minimize or completely avoid casualties and was likely to target a military base.

Iranian officials had warned a major Israeli attack would trigger immediate retaliation.

Iran's options to respond included shutting down the Strait of Hormuz through which about a fifth of the world's oil passes, urging proxies to hit Israeli or US interests, and deploying previously unused missiles, a senior Iranian official said.

While satisfying Israel's moderates at home, its neighbors and international partners, the measured strike, when it came, was met with dismay from hardliners in Netanyahu's cabinet.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, whose ultranationalist party is a key prop in Netanyahu's coalition, posted a single word on X, “Feeble."


Beach Offers Rare Respite for Gazans

Palestinians enjoy the beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)
Palestinians enjoy the beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)
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Beach Offers Rare Respite for Gazans

Palestinians enjoy the beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)
Palestinians enjoy the beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

Hundreds of Gazans found rare respite at the beach this week from more than six months of traumatizing Israeli bombardments in the Palestinian territory.

After temperatures suddenly soared, children paddled in the sea and their friends played ball games on the sand around Deir el-Balah in the center of the coastal strip -- but the war was never far away, Agence France Presse reported Thursday.

Deir al-Balah city became a focus of fighting in Gaza between Israeli forces and Hamas militants. Israeli bombardments have left children dead and wounded.

"The children were happy and this was our first goal -- to get them out of the destruction, killing, and the atmosphere of war, even though they hear explosions every moment and planes in the air," said Naji Abu Waseem, displaced from Gaza City in the territory's north.

"God willing, this war will end and we will return to Gaza City, even to the rubble."

Many at the beach are living in makeshift shelters nearby. They are among the 1.7 million people the United Nations says have been uprooted by Gaza's war and left struggling for food, water and other essentials.

"The tent was like an oven," said Mahmud al-Khatib, 28, also displaced from Gaza's north. "The sea was the only option," where he took his wife and children.

"There's no infrastructure, no life, everything is nonexistent," Khatib said on Wednesday with the arrival of summer-like temperatures.

Groups of men lay in the sand looking at the waves as children played in the water. Women and girls in tunics and hijabs took photographs.

Yunis Abu Ramadan, displaced with his family from the Gaza City area, said that, "with shooting everywhere," it is impossible to forget the war.

"We live in fear and terror and wish to return to our homes in Gaza," he said.

Still, his wife, Umm Ramadan, said the beach was a welcome break from their cramped life in an overcrowded tent.

"We're packed like sardines," she said. "We do not know comfort or calm due to the (Israeli) air strikes and the fear and anxiety of the children."

Worry persisted even at the water's edge, Ramadan added.

"We saw all the people in the tents had reached the sea like us because the weather was very hot," she said.

"But we were afraid that we would be bombed while we were by the sea too, as (Israeli) boats were close to the shore," Ramadan added.

"We hope the war will end and we will return to our homes."


Gaza's IVF Embryos Destroyed by Israeli Strike

Palestinian woman Seba Jaafarawi, whose IVF embryos were stored at Al Basma IVF Center, gestures during an interview with Reuters via Zoom, in Cairo, Egypt, March 28, 2024, in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Palestinian woman Seba Jaafarawi, whose IVF embryos were stored at Al Basma IVF Center, gestures during an interview with Reuters via Zoom, in Cairo, Egypt, March 28, 2024, in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/Reuters TV
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Gaza's IVF Embryos Destroyed by Israeli Strike

Palestinian woman Seba Jaafarawi, whose IVF embryos were stored at Al Basma IVF Center, gestures during an interview with Reuters via Zoom, in Cairo, Egypt, March 28, 2024, in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Palestinian woman Seba Jaafarawi, whose IVF embryos were stored at Al Basma IVF Center, gestures during an interview with Reuters via Zoom, in Cairo, Egypt, March 28, 2024, in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/Reuters TV

When an Israeli shell struck Gaza's largest fertility clinic in December, the explosion blasted the lids off five liquid nitrogen tanks stored in a corner of the embryology unit.
As the ultra-cold liquid evaporated, the temperature inside the tanks rose, destroying more than 4,000 embryos plus 1,000 more specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs stored at Gaza City's Al Basma IVF center.
The impact of that single explosion was far-reaching -- an example of the unseen toll Israel's six-and-a-half-month-old assault has had on the 2.3 million people of Gaza, Reuters reported.
The embryos in those tanks were the last hope for hundreds of Palestinian couples facing infertility.
"We know deeply what these 5,000 lives, or potential lives, meant for the parents, either for the future or for the past," said Bahaeldeen Ghalayini, 73, the Cambridge-trained obstetrician and gynecologist who established the clinic in 1997.
At least half of the couples — those who can no longer produce sperm or eggs to make viable embryos — will not have another chance to get pregnant, he said.
"My heart is divided into a million pieces," he said.
Three years of fertility treatment was a psychological roller coaster for Seba Jaafarawi. The retrieval of eggs from her ovaries was painful, the hormone injections had strong side-effects and the sadness when two attempted pregnancies failed seemed unbearable.
Jaafarawi, 32, and her husband could not get pregnant naturally and turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is widely available in Gaza.
Large families are common in the enclave, where nearly half the population is under 18 and the fertility rate is high at 3.38 births per woman, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics. Britain's fertility rate is 1.63 births per woman.
Despite Gaza's poverty, couples facing infertility pursue IVF, some selling TVs and jewelry to pay the fees, Al Ghalayini said.

At least nine clinics in Gaza performed IVF, where eggs are collected from a woman's ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. The fertilized eggs, called embryos, are often frozen until the optimal time for transfer to a woman's uterus. Most frozen embryos in Gaza were stored at the Al Basma center.
In September, Jaafarawi became pregnant, her first successful IVF attempt.
"I did not even have time to celebrate the news," she said.
Two days before her first scheduled ultrasound scan, Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched an all-out assault that has since killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.
Jaafarawi worried: "How would I complete my pregnancy? What would happen to me and what would happen to the ones inside my womb?"
Her ultrasound never happened and Ghalayini closed his clinic, where an additional five of Jaafarawi's embryos were stored.
As the Israeli attacks intensified, Mohammed Ajjour, Al Basma's chief embryologist, started to worry about liquid nitrogen levels in the five specimen tanks. Top ups were needed every month or so to keep the temperature below -180C in each tank, which operate independent of electricity.
After the war began, Ajjour managed to procure one delivery of liquid nitrogen, but Israel cut electricity and fuel to Gaza, and most suppliers closed.
At the end of October, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza and soldiers closed in on the streets around the IVF center. It became too dangerous for Ajjour to check the tanks.
Jaafarawi knew she should rest to keep her fragile pregnancy safe, but hazards were everywhere: she climbed six flights of stairs to her apartment because the elevator stopped working; a bomb leveled the building next door and blasted out windows in her flat; food and water became scarce.
Instead of resting, she worried.
"I got very scared and there were signs that I would lose (the pregnancy)," she said.
Jaafarawi bled a little bit after she and her husband left home and moved south to Khan Younis. The bleeding subsided, but her fear did not.

They crossed into Egypt on Nov. 12 and in Cairo, her first ultrasound showed she was pregnant with twins and they were alive.
But after a few days, she experienced painful cramps, bleeding and a sudden shift in her belly. She made it to hospital, but the miscarriage had already begun.
"The sounds of me screaming and crying at the hospital are still (echoing) in my ears," she said.
The pain of loss has not stopped.
"Whatever you imagine or I tell you about how hard the IVF journey is, only those who have gone through it know what it's really like," she said.
Jaafarawi wanted to return to the war zone, retrieve her frozen embryos and attempt IVF again.
But it was soon too late.
Ghalayini said a single Israeli shell struck the corner of the center, blowing up the ground floor embryology lab. He does not know if the attack specifically targeted the lab or not.
"All these lives were killed or taken away: 5,000 lives in one shell," he said.
In April, the embryology lab was still strewn with broken masonry, blown-up lab supplies and, amid the rubble, the liquid nitrogen tanks, according to a Reuters-commissioned journalist who visited the site.
The lids were open and, still visible at the bottom of one of the tanks, a basket was filled with tiny color-coded straws containing the ruined microscopic embryos.


Sudan’s Year-Old War: The Build-up and the Turmoil 

A boy holds bullet cartridges as clashes between Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army continue, in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 13, 2023.  (Reuters)
A boy holds bullet cartridges as clashes between Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army continue, in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 13, 2023. (Reuters)
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Sudan’s Year-Old War: The Build-up and the Turmoil 

A boy holds bullet cartridges as clashes between Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army continue, in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 13, 2023.  (Reuters)
A boy holds bullet cartridges as clashes between Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army continue, in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 13, 2023. (Reuters)

Sudan is now a year into a war between rival military factions that has killed thousands, forced millions to flee and created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Below is a timeline of the events that led up to the conflict and the turmoil that followed:

THE BUILD-UP

Dec. 19, 2018 - Hundreds protest in the northern city of Atbara against soaring bread prices. Demonstrations spurred by a broader economic crisis soon spread to Khartoum and other cities. Security services respond with tear gas and gunfire.

April 6, 2019 - Hundreds of thousands begin a sit-in outside army headquarters in Khartoum. Five days later the army overthrows and detains President Omar al-Bashir, ending his three-decade rule.

Aug. 17, 2019 - After a deadly raid on the sit-in at army headquarters in June causes outrage, the military and civilian groups sign a deal to share power during a transitional period leading to elections. Abdalla Hamdok, an economist and former UN official, is later appointed to head a government.

Oct. 25, 2021 - Security forces detain Hamdok and other top civilians in pre-dawn raids, following recriminations between civilian and military factions and a failed coup attempt. Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan says the civilian government has been dissolved.

Nov. 21, 2021 - After several rallies against the coup and the suspension of most international financial support for Sudan, military leaders and Hamdok announce a deal for his reinstatement as prime minister. He resigns less than two months later.

Dec. 5, 2022 - Civilian groups sign an initial deal with the military to start a new, two-year political transition and appoint a civilian government.

April 5, 2023 - The signing of a final deal is delayed for a second time amid disputes over whether the army would be placed under civilian oversight and over plans for the integration of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the army.

THE TURMOIL

April 13, 2023 - Sudan's army says mobilization by the RSF risks confrontation. Two days later, battles break out between the two forces in Khartoum and other cities.

April 21, 2023 - The number of residents fleeing Khartoum accelerates as army air strikes, clashes and looting hit the capital. Diplomats and expatriates rush to airstrips, borders and other evacuation points in the days and weeks that follow.

May 20, 2023 - At talks in Jeddah, the warring factions agree to a seven-day ceasefire, but fighting barely pauses. The US-Saudi brokered negotiations are the first of several failed international attempts to settle the conflict.

July 2023 - Violence spreads in the strife-torn western region of Darfur, where the RSF makes further advances in the following months.

Dec. 14, 2023 - Families in conflict zones could experience famine-like conditions in 2024, the UN warns. Some 30 million, almost two-thirds of the population, need help, double the number before the war. Humanitarian alerts mount in the following months.

Dec. 19, 2023 - The army withdraws as the RSF advances to take Wad Madani, the capital of al-Gezira state. The RSF largely controls neighboring Khartoum, almost all of Darfur and much of Kordofan, while the army holds the north and east including Sudan's main Red Sea port. Both sides have committed abuses, the UN and the US say.

March 12, 2024 - The army says it has taken control of the state broadcaster's headquarters in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, part of its biggest advance against the RSF in months. Sources say Iranian-made drones are helping the army turn the tide.

April 9, 2024 - Fighting spreads to the up-to-now calm farming state of al-Gadaref, where almost half a million people have taken refuge.


Sudan Crisis: 25 Million in Need, 8 Million Displaced, Famine Fears

 Sudanese refugees collecting water from a well on the Sudanese-Chadian border (EPA)
Sudanese refugees collecting water from a well on the Sudanese-Chadian border (EPA)
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Sudan Crisis: 25 Million in Need, 8 Million Displaced, Famine Fears

 Sudanese refugees collecting water from a well on the Sudanese-Chadian border (EPA)
Sudanese refugees collecting water from a well on the Sudanese-Chadian border (EPA)

In Sudan, a year of conflict has turned lives upside down, with thousands killed and millions forced to leave their homes. Many seek refuge in neighboring countries like Chad, South Sudan, and Egypt.

The crisis threatens Sudan’s stability and risks spreading unrest across the region. While global attention focuses elsewhere, officials warn of the urgent need for action.

Reflecting on the crisis, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, condemned the silence surrounding Sudan, emphasizing the urgent need for international action.

Similarly, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator described the suffering as unimaginable, emphasizing the need for diplomacy, aid access, and funding to prevent further catastrophe as the conflict enters its second year.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths highlighted the escalating hardships stemming from violence, hunger, displacement, and disease, warning that without expanded efforts in three key areas—diplomacy to halt fighting, access to those in need, and funding for humanitarian response—the situation could deteriorate further as the conflict enters its second year.

This stark assessment underscores the critical importance of immediate and concerted international intervention to avert a worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan.

In Sudan, over 15,000 have lost their lives in the ongoing conflict.

According to Linda-Greenfield, around 25 million Sudanese urgently need humanitarian aid, with three-quarters struggling to find enough food. About 8 million have been forced from their homes, making it the world's largest internal displacement crisis.

The UN warns of a looming catastrophe, with Sudan facing the biggest displacement crisis globally and potentially one of the worst hunger crises.

Roughly 18 million are severely food insecure, with nearly 5 million on the edge of famine in conflict zones. Additionally, 3.5 million children suffer from acute malnutrition.

The World Health Organization fears 230,000 children, pregnant women, and new mothers could die in the next few months without immediate aid and funding.


Reaction to Iran’s Drone, Missile Attack on Israel

 Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Jerusalem April 14, 2024. (Reuters)
Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Jerusalem April 14, 2024. (Reuters)
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Reaction to Iran’s Drone, Missile Attack on Israel

 Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Jerusalem April 14, 2024. (Reuters)
Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Jerusalem April 14, 2024. (Reuters)

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps said it launched dozens of drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday, in an attack that could lead to a major escalation between the regional archenemies.

Here is some reaction to the attack from official statements and postings on social media:

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

"In recent years, and especially in recent weeks, Israel has been preparing for a direct attack by Iran. Our defensive systems are deployed; we are ready for any scenario, both defensively and offensively. The State of Israel is strong. The IDF is strong. The public is strong.

"We appreciate the US standing alongside Israel, as well as the support of Britain, France and many other countries. We have determined a clear principle: Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We will defend ourselves against any threat and will do so level-headedly and with determination."

IRAN'S MISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS

"... Iran’s military action was in response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus. The matter can be deemed concluded.

"However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe. It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the US MUST STAY AWAY!"

US PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN

"I just met with my national security team for an update on Iran’s attacks against Israel. Our commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad."

US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES SPEAKER MIKE JOHNSON

"As Israel faces this vicious attack from Iran, America must show our full resolve to stand with our critical ally. The world must be assured: Israel is not alone."

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES

"I strongly condemn the serious escalation represented by the large-scale attack launched on Israel by the Islamic Republic of Iran this evening. I call for an immediate cessation of these hostilities.

"I am deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation. I urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any action that could lead to major military confrontations on multiple fronts in the Middle East.

"I have repeatedly stressed that neither the region nor the world can afford another war."

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER RISHI SUNAK

"I condemn in the strongest terms the Iranian regime’s reckless attack against Israel. These strikes risk inflaming tensions and destabilizing the region. Iran has once again demonstrated that it is intent on sowing chaos in its own backyard.

"The UK will continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq. Alongside our allies, we are urgently working to stabilize the situation and prevent further escalation. No one wants to see more bloodshed.”

CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU

"Canada unequivocally condemns Iran’s airborne attacks against Israel. We stand with Israel. After supporting Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 attack, the Iranian regime’s latest actions will further destabilize the region and make lasting peace more difficult.

"These attacks demonstrate yet again the Iranian regime’s disregard for peace and stability in the region. We support Israel’s right to defend itself and its people from these attacks."

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER ANNALENA BAERBOCK

"Iran has fired drones and missiles at Israel. We strongly condemn the ongoing attack, which could plunge an entire region into chaos. Iran and its proxies must stop this immediately. Israel offers our full solidarity at this time."

GERMAN AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL STEFFEN SEIBERT

"Germany’s solidarity is with all Israelis tonight whom Iran is terrorizing with this unprecedented and ruthless attack: Jews as well as Arabs and Christians, the Bedouins in the Negev as well as the Druze in the Golan. May they all be safe.”

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER STEPHANE SEJOURNE

"France condemns in the strongest terms the attack launched by Iran against Israel. By deciding on such an unprecedented action, Iran is taking a new step in its destabilizing actions and taking the risk of a military escalation."

EUROPEAN UNION FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF JOSEP BORRELL

"The EU strongly condemns the unacceptable Iranian attack against Israel. This is an unprecedented escalation and a grave threat to regional security."

EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT CHARLES MICHEL

"Strongly condemn the attack launched by Iran on Israel. Everything must be done to prevent further regional escalation. More bloodshed must be avoided. We will continue to follow the situation closely with our partners."

SPANISH PRIME MINISTER PEDRO SANCHEZ

"We are following events in the Middle East with the deepest concern. We are in permanent contact with our embassies in the region which will remain open to support Spaniards in the area.”

DUTCH PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE

"Very worrying situation in the Middle East. Earlier today, the Netherlands and other countries sent a loud and clear message to Iran to refrain from attacking Israel. The Netherlands strongly condemns Iran's attacks on Israel. Further escalation must be prevented. ... We continue to monitor developments very closely."

DANISH FOREIGN MINISTER LARS LOKKE RASMUSSEN

"Denmark strongly condemns Iran's announced attack on Israel. I urge everyone to show restraint and deescalate the situation. Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East is unacceptable - and so is this attack."

NORWEGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ESPEN BARTH EIDE

"I condemn the illegal and dangerous Iranian attack underway against Israel. This will further deteriorate an already extremely volatile situation. We must prevent further escalation of violence in the Middle East. I call upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint."

CZECH REPUBLIC FOREIGN MINISTRY

"Czechia firmly condemns the destabilizing behavior of Iran and its proxies who decided to attack Israel. We reiterate the Israeli right for self-defense. Iran’s long term aggressive behavior is preventing the Middle East region to live in peace and security."

COLOMBIA'S PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO

"It was predictable; we're now in the prelude to World War III precisely when humanity should rebuild its economy towards the rapid goal of decarbonization. The support of the US, in practice, for a genocide, has ignited the world. Everyone knows how wars start, no one knows how they end. If only the people of Israel were high enough, like their ancestors, to stop the madness of their ruler. The United Nations must meet urgently and must immediately commit to peace."

ARGENTINA'S PRESIDENT JAVIER MILEI

"The office of President Javier Milei expresses its solidarity and unwavering commitment to the State of Israel following the attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Republic of Argentina recognizes the right of State-Nations to defend themselves and strongly supports the State of Israel in the defense of its sovereignty, in particular against regimes that promote terror and seek the destruction of western civilization."

PARAGUAY'S PRESIDENT SANTIAGO PENA

"In such difficult times, we express our full support for the people of Israel, and are concerned about the increase of violence in the region. We remain in contact with our embassies in the region to serve our compatriots."

CHILE'S FOREIGN MINISTER ALBERTO VAN KLAVEREN

"We express our concern about the serious escalation of tensions in the Middle East and the Iranian attacks against Israel. Chile condemns the use of force and defends international humanitarian law, which protects civilian lives in armed conflicts."

MEXICO'S FOREIGN MINISTRY

"The government of Mexico expresses deep concern over Iran's attack against Israeli territory, and the impact that this could have on thousands of human lives. Mexico condemns the use of force in international relations, and calls on the parties to self-restrain and seek solutions peacefully to avoid a more general conflict in the Middle East. Mexico also emphasizes the importance of respecting international law for the sake of international peace and security."


Lebanon Recalls Civil War as Latest Unrest Threatens New Strife

Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
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Lebanon Recalls Civil War as Latest Unrest Threatens New Strife

Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)

Lebanon commemorated on Saturday the 49th anniversary of the Lebanese civil war that erupted on April 13, 1975, and ended in 1990 with the adoption of the Taif Accord.

The war left over 200,000 people dead, thousands missing, and massive destruction of state infrastructure and institutions.

People who lived through the war are now warning that the factors that led to its eruption are available now, saying they are almost identical to the conditions that were present in 1975.

The saying “history repeats itself” doesn’t seem to mean anything to the people in Lebanon, said former minister and MP Butros Harb.

He recalled that the “sympathy shown by some Lebanese people, especially its Sunnis, to the Palestinians allowed the Palestine Liberation Organization to effectively seize control of the country” in the 1970s, which was one of the sources of tension that led to the war.

“Today, the Shiite sect, represented by Hezbollah, is insisting on sympathizing with Iran and its interests, again placing Lebanon on a path that may be more dangerous than what took place in the past,” Harb told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The situation today is much more challenging because it pits you in a confrontation with one segment of the Lebanese people – the Shiites – causing a deep division between two camps: one that wants life, stability and prosperity and another that wants martyrdom and to keep fighting and place the country in a constant state of war,” he added.

Harb spoke of factors that helped Hezbollah seize control of Lebanon, such as its shared interest with Christian and non-Christian parties. He criticized former President Michel Aoun, who “in order to become president, obstructed state functioning and allowed Hezbollah to run rampant.”

“Lebanon now habitually lives in a state where it doesn’t have a president or a functioning government or constitutional institutions,” he went on to say.

“Lebanon will never become livable and rid itself of the constant cycle of wars if the Lebanese people don’t wake up and abandon their loyalty to Iran, the Arabs, United States and others,” warned Harb.

“My heart breaks and I ache over what has become of Lebanon,” he said.

Lebanese politician Toufik Sultan echoed Harb’s remarks, saying the factors that sparked the civil war are still present now, including the warlords who were active back then and who still control the country today.

“No one learned from the tragedies of the past,” he lamented in remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat.”

“The players who were active during the war are still present today,” he noted.

“Lebanon is a sick country whose only treatment lies in abandoning sectarianism and for the sects to let go of the interests of their leaders,” he stressed.

Moreover, he said the kidnapping and killing of Pascal Sleiman, the Lebanese Forces coordinator in Jbeil, around a week ago was a major shock in Lebanon that could have led to “rampant chaos.”

On Monday, the army said Sleiman, who had gone missing the day before, was killed in a carjacking by Syrian gang members who then took his body across the border.

His killing has deepened sectarian and political faultines in Lebanon, raising fears of armed clashes between rival factions in a country already beset by a deep economic crisis, and cross-border shelling linked to the Gaza War.

Government and religious officials rushed to quell tensions after the killing prompted fears of renewed street brawls between rival parties and triggered beatings of Syrians.

Lebanon hosts hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the war that erupted in their homeland in 2011. Last year, Lebanese security forces deported dozens of refugees in what rights groups called a violation of international law.

Harb warned that Sleiman’s killing could lead to chaos in Lebanon. “Such practices could lead Syrians in Lebanon to seek any means to defend themselves, stay alive and maintain their sources of income,” he went on to say. He also warned against attempts to exploit the Syrians to deliberately stir strife.

He acknowledged that the presence of the refugees throughout the country was “very dangerous for Lebanon,” calling for “finding a way to return them home.”

He heavily blamed the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Gebran Bassil for the problem, recalling that when the Syrians first started pouring into Lebanon at the beginning of the conflict, he had “strongly opposed at cabinet the establishment of camps where they could be sheltered under United Nations supervision.”

The unrest and weakening of official authorities are a reflection of the weakness of the state and inability to elect a new president, form a new government and enact reforms that would resolve several crises.

Sultan said tackling the situation and averting a new war can only take place through an internal settlement that would be less costly than listening to foreign dictates.

“Whoever has risen to the top must show some humility and reach an understanding with their partners in the nation to avoid strife that could destroy the country,” he urged.

Furthermore, he warned that the refugee problem was “a danger to all the Lebanese people, not just its Christians,” but violence is not the way to resolve it.

“The Syrian presence in Lebanon would not have become so problematic were it not for international opposition to their return home, which is part of a conspiracy against Lebanon,” he said.