Report: Poverty Rate in Gaza Strip Highest Worldwide

Palestinian children are seen in a poor neighborhood in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 24, 2018. AFP
Palestinian children are seen in a poor neighborhood in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 24, 2018. AFP
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Report: Poverty Rate in Gaza Strip Highest Worldwide

Palestinian children are seen in a poor neighborhood in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 24, 2018. AFP
Palestinian children are seen in a poor neighborhood in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 24, 2018. AFP

The Ministry of Social Development in the Gaza Strip said in a report that the 2019 poverty rate in the enclave is the highest in the world.

On the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, celebrated on Oct. 17, the Ministry’s undersecretary, Ghazi Hamad, said that poverty and unemployment rates have reached nearly 75 percent in 2019.

He said that the Gaza Strip suffers from a dire economic situation as a result of the aggressive Israeli practices that increased since the Second Intifada, which broke out in 2000, depriving thousands of Palestinians of their jobs, and also due to the Israeli blockade on the territory since 2006, restricting the movement of citizens and goods.

The Ministry report said that 70 percent of the population of the Gaza Strip is food insecure, while 33.8 percent are under the extreme poverty line and 65.6 percent of poor families are refugees.

It said that Gaza possesses the highest poverty indicators in the world, adding that efforts by government, international and local institutions are characterized as relief activities meeting only about 50 percent of the basic needs of poor families.

The Ministry documents revealed there are 46,910 refugee families in the Strip, adding that they were forced out of their houses after 1948.

Until July, the ministry said that 70,645 families had benefited from the national social protection program, representing 20 percent of the Strip’s population, which is under the extreme poverty line.

Hamad said that 37 percent of families that benefit from the program are sustained by women, including 15 percent of those families sustained by widows.

Hamad called for “guaranteeing humanitarian work independence away from political tensions and for improving the living standards of the people of the Gaza Strip by opening the border crossings and allowing citizens and goods to move freely.

He also demanded strengthening coordination between social institutions working in the enclave in order to secure decent living conditions for the poor.



Israeli Military Hits Gaza Strip as Protests Continue

Israeli army vehicle patrols at the border with the Gaza Strip during clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli troops near Nahal Oz, on the border with Gaza Strip, 22 September 2023. (EPA)
Israeli army vehicle patrols at the border with the Gaza Strip during clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli troops near Nahal Oz, on the border with Gaza Strip, 22 September 2023. (EPA)
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Israeli Military Hits Gaza Strip as Protests Continue

Israeli army vehicle patrols at the border with the Gaza Strip during clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli troops near Nahal Oz, on the border with Gaza Strip, 22 September 2023. (EPA)
Israeli army vehicle patrols at the border with the Gaza Strip during clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli troops near Nahal Oz, on the border with Gaza Strip, 22 September 2023. (EPA)

The Israeli military said its forces conducted strikes on Friday in the Gaza Strip, where protesters have clashed for days with troops along the separation fence.

The military gave no details on the strikes but media outlets affiliated with the Hamas movement that controls the enclave said security outposts were hit.

Earlier the health ministry said 14 Palestinians had been wounded during confrontations in which dozens of youths hurled stones, primitive pipe bombs and burning tires at security forces.


Iran’s Quds Force Chief in Syria to Oversee Joint Drill

 Iran's Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani. (AFP file photo)
Iran's Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani. (AFP file photo)
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Iran’s Quds Force Chief in Syria to Oversee Joint Drill

 Iran's Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani. (AFP file photo)
Iran's Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani. (AFP file photo)

The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, Esmail Qaani, has visited Syria to oversee a joint military drill, media outlets in Iran said.

Qaani, appointed Quds Force commander after a US drone strike on Baghdad killed its revered leader Qasem Soleimani in 2020, met senior Syrian officials in Damascus, Tasnim news agency reported late Thursday.

They held discussions on ways to "confront the military and security challenges facing Syria" and supervised a joint Iran-Syria military exercise, Tasnim said.

Qaani also praised Syria and Iran's "brotherly relations" said Iran "will stand by the Syrian people and leadership in facing its challenges", the news agency added.

The Quds Force is the foreign operations arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The United States placed it on its list of "foreign terrorist organizations" in 2019, but Iran insists its activities abroad are an example of regional cooperation aimed at shoring up stability and blocking Western interference.

Iran has been a major ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, providing him economic, political, and military support during Syria's more than 12-year civil war.

Tehran's support helped Damascus claw back most of the territory it lost at the start of the conflict and positioned Iran in a leading role as Assad seeks to focus on reconstruction.

Militias affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards have a heavy presence across Syria, but Tehran denies sending forces to fight in Syria, saying it only has military advisers in the war-ravaged country.

The Syrian conflict has claimed more than 500,000 lives, displaced millions and ravaged the country's infrastructure and industry.

In May, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi embarked on a landmark visit to Syria, where he called on "resistance forces" to come together to confront Tehran's arch-enemy Israel.

Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes against Syrian positions as well as Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces, allies of Damascus and arch-foes of Israel.

Israel rarely comments on the strikes on a case-by-case basis, but says it seeks to prevent Iran from establishing a foothold on its doorstep.


Libya’s Flood-Hit Derna to Host Reconstruction Conference

 A view shows destroyed buildings in the aftermath of the the deadly storm that hit Libya, in Derna, Libya September 21, 2023. (Reuters)
A view shows destroyed buildings in the aftermath of the the deadly storm that hit Libya, in Derna, Libya September 21, 2023. (Reuters)
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Libya’s Flood-Hit Derna to Host Reconstruction Conference

 A view shows destroyed buildings in the aftermath of the the deadly storm that hit Libya, in Derna, Libya September 21, 2023. (Reuters)
A view shows destroyed buildings in the aftermath of the the deadly storm that hit Libya, in Derna, Libya September 21, 2023. (Reuters)

Libya's eastern-based administration said on Friday that it would host an international conference next month in the flood-hit port city of Derna to aid reconstruction efforts.

A tsunami-sized flash flood broke through two ageing dams upstream from Derna after a hurricane-strength storm lashed the area on September 10, razing entire neighborhoods and sweeping thousands of people into the sea.

"The government invites the international community to participate in the conference planned for October 10 in Derna to present modern, rapid projects for the reconstruction of the city," the administration said in a statement.

It said the conference was being held in "response to the demands of residents of the stricken city of Derna and other towns that suffered damage" during the flooding.

Wracked by divisions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed veteran ruler Moammar al-Gaddafi, Libya has for years been ruled by two administrations vying for power.

The Government of National (GNU) in Tripoli is headed by Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah, while a rival administration in the east is backed by Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar.

The official death toll from the flood stands at more than 3,300 -- but the eventual count is expected to be far higher, with international aid groups giving estimates of up to 10,000 people missing.

Over 40,000 displaced

The International Organization for Migration on Thursday said more than 43,000 people have been displaced by the flood.

It said a "lack of water supply is reportedly driving many displaced out of Derna" to other areas.

The dams that burst had developed cracks as far back as the 1990s, Libya's top prosecutor has said, as residents accused authorities of negligence.

Scientists from the World Weather Attribution group said in a report issued on Tuesday that a deluge of the magnitude seen during Storm Daniel in northeastern Libya was an event that occurred once every 300-600 years.

They found the rains were both more likely and heavier because of human-caused global warming, with up to 50 percent more rain during the period.


Ambassador: US Embassy in Lebanon ‘Not Intimidated’ by Shots Fired Towards it

Dorothy Shea, US ambassador to Lebanon, meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in Beirut, Lebanon, in this handout released on September 22, 2023. (Dalati & Nohra)
Dorothy Shea, US ambassador to Lebanon, meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in Beirut, Lebanon, in this handout released on September 22, 2023. (Dalati & Nohra)
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Ambassador: US Embassy in Lebanon ‘Not Intimidated’ by Shots Fired Towards it

Dorothy Shea, US ambassador to Lebanon, meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in Beirut, Lebanon, in this handout released on September 22, 2023. (Dalati & Nohra)
Dorothy Shea, US ambassador to Lebanon, meets with Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in Beirut, Lebanon, in this handout released on September 22, 2023. (Dalati & Nohra)

US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea on Friday said the embassy was "not intimidated" by a gunman's shots towards its entrance earlier this week and that Lebanese authorities were investigating the incident.

Late Wednesday, shots were fired near the US embassy north of Beirut. Embassy spokesperson Jake Nelson said no one had been hurt and normal business operations were ongoing.

"We know that authorities are investigating this incident, whereby a gunman fired shots toward the US embassy the other night," Shea said on Friday after meeting Lebanon's caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati.

"Please know that we at the US embassy are not intimidated by this incident, and our security protocols are very strong and our partnerships are ironclad," she said.

Mikati also condemned what he described as an "attack on the American embassy". There was no claim of responsibility for the gunfire and authorities have not provided details on the investigation.

The highly secured US embassy lies north of Beirut in the town of Awkar. Security incidents around it are rare. The embassy moved there from Beirut following a suicide attack in 1983 which killed more than 60 people.


Somalia Asks UN to Delay Peacekeeper Drawdown after ‘Significant Setbacks’

Burundian soldiers, part of the African Union troops, march at their base in Mogadishu, Somalia, Jan. 24, 2011. (AP)
Burundian soldiers, part of the African Union troops, march at their base in Mogadishu, Somalia, Jan. 24, 2011. (AP)
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Somalia Asks UN to Delay Peacekeeper Drawdown after ‘Significant Setbacks’

Burundian soldiers, part of the African Union troops, march at their base in Mogadishu, Somalia, Jan. 24, 2011. (AP)
Burundian soldiers, part of the African Union troops, march at their base in Mogadishu, Somalia, Jan. 24, 2011. (AP)

Somalia has asked the United Nations to pause a planned drawdown of 3,000 African Union peacekeepers for three months to allow its security forces time to regroup after a militant attack forced them to withdraw from several recently captured towns.

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), which is mandated by the UN Security Council, took over from another AU mission in April last year.

On June 30 ATMIS concluded the first phase of the drawdown of 2,000 troops and was due to enact a second troop withdrawal by Sept. 30, reducing its military personnel to 14,626.

In a Sept. 19 letter to the UN Security Council seen by Reuters, National Security Adviser Hussein Sheikh Ali said the government's year-long campaign to liberate areas from al-Shabaab militants in the central regions of the country had suffered "several significant setbacks" in recent weeks.

Ali said an attack by the extremists on Aug. 26 in Cosweyn in Galgaduud region had triggered the retreat of government forces from several newly captured towns.

Somalia's government has not provided a death toll for the attack, but one former official, citing military officers in Cosweyn, said as many as 130 soldiers may have been killed.

"This unforeseen turn of events has stretched our military forces thin, exposed vulnerabilities in our front lines, and necessitated a thorough reorganization to ensure we maintain our momentum in countering the al Shabaab threat," Ali wrote.

"Our forces require a period of respite for recuperation while we continue our advance."

Somalia's information and interior ministers did not respond to requests for comment.

Al-Shabaab has killed tens of thousands since 2006 in its fight to overthrow Somalia's Western-backed central government.

ATMIS is due to fully withdraw and hand over security responsibilities to the Somali state by the end of 2024. Somalia remains committed to that date, Ali wrote.


China’s Xi Calls on West to Lift Sanctions against War-Ravaged Syria

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in eastern Hangzhou city, in this handout picture released by Sana on September 22, 2023, Syria. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in eastern Hangzhou city, in this handout picture released by Sana on September 22, 2023, Syria. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
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China’s Xi Calls on West to Lift Sanctions against War-Ravaged Syria

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in eastern Hangzhou city, in this handout picture released by Sana on September 22, 2023, Syria. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in eastern Hangzhou city, in this handout picture released by Sana on September 22, 2023, Syria. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

China's President Xi Jinping called on the West to lift sanctions on Syria and offered Beijing's help in rebuilding the war-shattered country on Friday during rare talks with Syria's long ostracized leader Bashar al-Assad.

Their meeting in the Chinese city of Hangzhou gave a boost to Assad's campaign to return to the global stage while allowing China to advance its strategic interests in the Middle East.

"China opposes interference by external forces in Syria's internal affairs... and urges all relevant countries to lift illegal unilateral sanctions against Syria," said a readout of the talks published by Chinese state media.

Xi also told Assad that China would help Syria to rebuild its ruined economy and counter domestic unrest, by upgrading ties to a "strategic partnership".

Xi's endorsement should strengthen Assad's efforts to plot a path back from what is effectively pariah status. Syria joined China's Belt and Road Initiative in 2022 and was welcomed back into the Arab League in May.

In Chinese diplomacy, a "strategic partnership" implies closer coordination on regional and international affairs, including in the military sphere. It is one grade below what Beijing calls a "comprehensive strategic partnership".

Western sanctions on Syria have been steadily tightened since the early days of a civil war that began in 2011 with a crackdown on protests and went on to kill hundreds of thousands of people and displace millions.

Assad's government, backed by Russia and Iran, now controls most Syrian territory and has re-established ties in recent years with Arab neighbors.

Sanctions deterrent

Syria desperately needs foreign investment for its infrastructure and industry. Its dire economic situation has triggered protests in southern Syria in which crowds have called for the president's removal.

However, analysts doubt that Chinese firms will rush back to Syria as they would risk becoming entangled in US sanctions under the 2020 Caesar Act that can freeze the assets of anyone dealing with the country.

Chinese investors will also have to consider Syria's poor security and parlous financial situation.

Beijing has stepped up its diplomatic engagement with the Middle East in recent years, and in March helped broker a surprise deal between long-standing regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran to end their seven-year diplomatic rift.

Citing flagship initiatives aimed at building up infrastructure along the ancient Silk Road and promoting China's approach to global security, Xi extended support for Syrian efforts to improve relations with other Arab countries. 


Palestinian PM Says Oslo Accords Have ‘Vanished’

A Palestinian man stands in front of damage caused by an Israeli raid on Jenin city and its camp. (AFP)
A Palestinian man stands in front of damage caused by an Israeli raid on Jenin city and its camp. (AFP)
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Palestinian PM Says Oslo Accords Have ‘Vanished’

A Palestinian man stands in front of damage caused by an Israeli raid on Jenin city and its camp. (AFP)
A Palestinian man stands in front of damage caused by an Israeli raid on Jenin city and its camp. (AFP)

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh appealed for strong international support to overcome political and financial challenges, enhance reform efforts, and advance development plans.

He made these remarks during the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) donors’ meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

"It is clear to all of us that the Oslo Accords have vanished in all aspects: security, political, legal, and financial," he said, calling on the international community to protect the two-state solution.

He accused the Israeli government of working systematically to undermine the establishment of the Palestinian state and push the Palestinian Authority to the brink of collapse through its daily incursions into the villages, cities, and camps, as well as its policies that are based on murder, arrests, and destruction.

The Israeli government is illegally withholding Palestinian funds, in addition to making unmonitored deductions from electricity, water, and sewage bills, added Shtayyeh.

He went on to say that the "systematic piracy of Palestinian funds has now topped $800 million annually, exceeding our annual deficit by $200 million, which has affected our ability to fulfill our obligations and pay public sector salaries in full."

Meanwhile, international aid has decreased significantly, as it has dropped from 30 percent of the budget to only three percent, he continued.

The PM briefed the meeting on the progress made in implementing the reform agenda.

He said that the government is about to finalize the 2024-2029 development plan, which is based on a set of goals that include strengthening the resilience of the Palestinian people, gradually breaking away from dependency on Israel by expanding Palestinian economic production and diversifying the trade relationship, in addition to strengthening and improving services in public institutions.

The Palestinian government is suffering from an ongoing financial crisis, which it says is the worst since its establishment due to Israel's continued deduction of Palestinian tax funds, the repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis, and an unprecedented decline in foreign support.

For the second consecutive year, the Palestinian government cannot pay total salaries to civil and military servants, an indication of the ongoing financial crisis expected to worsen as the Israeli government deducts more of the PA’s "clearing" tax revenue funds.

For years Israel has been deducting sums of money from the clearance at a rate exceeding 200 million shekels per month, including the prices of electricity purchased by distribution companies and Palestinian local authorities from the Israel Electricity Company, the costs of water and sewage, and an allowance for medical referrals.

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara called on the international community to pressure Israelis to stop these deductions, restore financial rights fully, resolve pending issues in line with international law, and carry out the main amendments in the Paris Agreement.

The minister said during the same meeting that the sharp decline in the donor countries' support was compounded by a doubling in the Israeli deductions.

Bishara went on to say that the year 2023 was challenging for the PA because of the Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities, incurring huge losses in the economy and causing the GDP to slow down to 2.7 percent from 3.9 percent last year.

He further demanded the amendment of the Paris Agreement, saying that it has become a way to control 65 percent of returns and to keep the Palestinian economy dependent on Israel.


Two New Candidates Run for Presidential Election in Egypt

A banner depicting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen outside a polling station during the referendum on draft constitutional amendments (File photo: Reuters)
A banner depicting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen outside a polling station during the referendum on draft constitutional amendments (File photo: Reuters)
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Two New Candidates Run for Presidential Election in Egypt

A banner depicting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen outside a polling station during the referendum on draft constitutional amendments (File photo: Reuters)
A banner depicting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen outside a polling station during the referendum on draft constitutional amendments (File photo: Reuters)

Two new figures, opposition activist and head of Egypt's liberal Constitution Party (al-Dostour) Gameela Ismail and Chairman of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Farid Zahran, have announced they were running for the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt.

Ismail informed her party of her decision to enter the presidential race in response to a request from its supreme body. She has called for an extraordinary general assembly on October 4 to vote on her candidacy.

On Wednesday, Egypt's National Election Authority (NEA) announced that it had completed the "logistical procedures" for the upcoming elections, emphasizing it will maintain an equal distance from all candidates.

NEA executive director Ahmed Bendari stated that the Authority will guarantee the full rights of all candidates who meet the nomination requirements.

Zahran announced that his party held an urgent meeting to review its stance on the upcoming presidential election, as NEA is set to announce its timetable on Monday.

The meeting was attended by 134 members out of the party's total 143.

According to a party statement, "after a ten-hour meeting, 75 percent of members voted in favor of Zahran running for president, 15 percent objected, and 10 percent abstained."

The Civil Democratic Movement, an opposition coalition comprising 12 parties and public figures, seeks to agree on a single candidate.

If Gameela Ismail runs for the presidency, she will become the first Egyptian woman to do so.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has not announced his intention to run for another term.

To date, five political figures, including head of the Wafd Party Abdel-Sanad Yamama, former MP and member of the Wafd Party's Higher Council Fouad Badrawi, head of the People's Republican Party Hazem Omar, chairman of the Democratic Peace Party Ahmed el-Fadaly, and former MP and former head of leftist al-Karama Party Ahmed Tantawi have said they have plans to run in the upcoming elections.

Egyptian expert Abdel Moneim Said told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egyptian parties are taking the elections seriously and should continue efforts to agree on one candidate.

During a press conference, the National Election Authority laid down rules stipulating that a candidate for the presidency must be endorsed by at least twenty parliament members or supported by no less than 25,000 citizens who have the right to vote in at least fifteen governorates.


UNIFIL: Full Implementation of UN Resolution 1701 is Shared Responsibility

UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lazaro arriving at the ceremony (UN)
UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lazaro arriving at the ceremony (UN)
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UNIFIL: Full Implementation of UN Resolution 1701 is Shared Responsibility

UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lazaro arriving at the ceremony (UN)
UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lazaro arriving at the ceremony (UN)

The full implementation of UN Resolution 1701 is a shared responsibility, and the parties' commitment is necessary to advance towards a long-term solution, announced UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lazaro.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) celebrated the International Day of Peace in Naqoura, south Lebanon, in a ceremony attended by Lebanese political representatives, including Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab, local authorities, Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), security forces, UN officials, and members of the international community.

Lazaro and LAF representative Brigadier General Mounir Shehade laid wreaths at the cenotaph in memory of the over 300 UNIFIL peacekeepers who have lost their lives while serving in south Lebanon since 1978.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2695, extending UNIFIL's peacekeeping mandate for another year.

The resolution reaffirms UNIFIL's authorization to conduct its operations independently while continuing to coordinate with the Government of Lebanon regarding Lebanese sovereignty.

"As our name says, we are peacekeepers – we keep the peace, but we do not bestow it," Lazaro told the crowd.

"We keep the peace that the parties have each given space for, have each worked to maintain in their ways. But whenever it is threatened, UNIFIL is there, ready to help."

The UNIFIL head emphasized the mission's strong partnership with the Lebanese government and armed forces.

"We are here at the invitation of the Lebanese government, who have been our hosts for over forty-five years," he said.

"We coordinate closely with the Lebanese Armed Forces, conducting patrols with them and on our own, to help the government someday exercise its authority over this beautiful country."

He also stressed the importance of restraint and UNIFIL's role in decreasing tensions.

Lazaro noted: "The danger of miscalculation remains, a danger that could jeopardize the cessation of hostilities and lead us to conflict."

He asserted it was important for the parties to bear this in mind and to use UNIFIL's liaison and coordination mechanisms to deconflict situations and decrease tensions.

"The full implementation of UN Resolution 1701 remains a shared responsibility, and the parties' commitment is necessary to advance towards a long-term solution."

Military staff officers were awarded the UN Peacekeeping Medal during the ceremony for participating in the mission's work. As is customary, white doves were released at UNIFIL's cenotaph to symbolize peace.

The International Day of Peace was established by the UN General Assembly in 1981.

It is dedicated to ceasefire and non-violence and is an occasion during which all promote tolerance, justice, and human rights.

Each year, on this day, the UN invites all nations and people to honor a 24-hour cessation of hostilities and to commemorate the day through activities that promote peace.


Cyprus Calls on the EU to Rethink Syrian Safe Zones for Eventually Repatriating Syrian Migrants 

02 September 2023, Cyprus, Limassol: The store window is shattered as protesters attack a hair salon belonging to a migrant. (dpa)
02 September 2023, Cyprus, Limassol: The store window is shattered as protesters attack a hair salon belonging to a migrant. (dpa)
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Cyprus Calls on the EU to Rethink Syrian Safe Zones for Eventually Repatriating Syrian Migrants 

02 September 2023, Cyprus, Limassol: The store window is shattered as protesters attack a hair salon belonging to a migrant. (dpa)
02 September 2023, Cyprus, Limassol: The store window is shattered as protesters attack a hair salon belonging to a migrant. (dpa)

Cyprus has formally called on the European Union to re-evaluate which areas of Syria can be declared safe and free from armed conflict so that Syrian migrants can eventually be repatriated there, the Cypriot Interior Ministry said Friday.

Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou was the sole official to raise the issue during July’s informal gathering of his EU counterparts in Spain. No other EU nation has taken a formal position on safe zone re-evaluation, the Interior Ministry told The Associated Press.

Cyprus is fronting the re-evaluation bid because it says its proximity to the region has now made it a prime destination for Syrian migrants.

Ethnically divided Cyprus, with a population of nearly a million in the southern, internationally recognized part where migrants seek asylum, says migrants now comprise 6% of its population – much higher than the average in other EU member countries.

War-torn Syria has for the past 12 years has been designated as an unsafe country where indiscriminate violence poses a real risk to the safety of its citizens. The threat makes them eligible for international protection status which enables them to live and work in third countries.

The government of Cyprus is proposing that the EU initially re-examines whether conditions on the ground in Syria – or parts of the country – have changed enough for Syrians to be safely repatriated.

The practicalities of how such repatriations would take place could be decided at a later stage. One possibility would be to start repatriations of Syrians who hail from the declared safe zones, according to the Cypriot Interior Ministry.

Some 40% of 7,369 migrants who have applied for asylum in Cyprus in 2023 until the end of August are Syrians.

The European Union Agency for Asylum says there’s “no real risk” to civilians from indiscriminate violence in only one of Syria’s 13 regions – Tartus. In another four, including Latakia, Damascus, Homs and Quneitra, indiscriminate violence isn’t “at a high level.”

The United Nations refugee agency says it’s not currently either “facilitating or promoting refugee return” to Syria, noting that refugees have the right to return to their homeland “at a time of their own choosing.”