Rifaat Assad: Challenged his Brother for Syria’s Presidency, Aged in Exile, Pardoned by his Nephew

Rifaat and Hafez al-Assad pictured in January 1984. (AFP)
Rifaat and Hafez al-Assad pictured in January 1984. (AFP)
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Rifaat Assad: Challenged his Brother for Syria’s Presidency, Aged in Exile, Pardoned by his Nephew

Rifaat and Hafez al-Assad pictured in January 1984. (AFP)
Rifaat and Hafez al-Assad pictured in January 1984. (AFP)

The Syria that Rifaat al-Assad left when he was vice president to Hafez al-Assad decades ago is not the same one that he returned to after his nephew, President Bashar al-Assad, allowed him to return to as a “citizen.” The country has changed with its foreign alliances and role in the region. Its composition has changed and it is now “home” to five armies.

Accompanied by his wives, children and grandchildren, his first glimpses of Damascus, with its streets, checkpoints, officials and his former residence, may have rekindled memories of when he was at the height of his power. He may have recalled a time back in the 1980s when he orchestrated a “coup” against his brother and surrounded the capital.

Damascus, which 21 years ago ordered his arrest should he return from exile, rose above the wounds and received him so he can avoid imprisonment in France where he was sentenced to serve for five years. Days alone will decipher the “code” that was headlined by al-Watan newspaper last week and that said that Rifaat, 84, had returned “with no political or social role”. Days will tell the extent to which this “decree” will be implemented in Damascus and Latakia.

The brothers and the Brotherhood
When he was young, Rifaat had always been overshadowed by his stronger older brother, Hafez, who was seven years his senior. In 1952, he followed in his brother’s ideological footsteps and joined the Baath party. He also followed him in joining the military and later the interior ministry.

In March 1963, the Baath military committee, which his brother was a member of, seized power. Rifaat soon joined the military academy in Homs. After graduating, he served alongside his brother, who at the time was an air force commander.

His first military “tours” took place with Salim Hatoum and the raid of President Amin al-Hafez’s residence in February 1966. The raid was aimed at toppling the first Baath government. Under President Nureddin al-Atassi, Rifaat was tasked with commanding a special unit that was formed by the military committee to “defend the regime”.

Historians say that during the late 1960s, Syria witnessed two major conflicts. The first pitted Hafez and Rifaat against Salah Jadid and his chief of intelligence Abdulkarim al-Jundi. Between February 25 and 28, 1969, the Assad brothers launched a military operation in Damascus. Tanks moved in the capital against Jundi and Jadid loyalists. The former committed suicide on March 2, 1969, to avoid arrest. On November 17, 1970, Assad carried out the “comprehensive movement”, arresting Atassi and Jadid. Rifaat was then tasked with securing Damascus.

Rifaat became commander of the Defense Companies, which boasted some 40,000 soldiers and acted almost like an independent army that was not affiliated with the official military. Rifaat rose up the ranks in the party and he expanded his activities among students, the youth and the media.

The second conflict erupted in 1979. It pitted the regime against the Muslim Brotherhood. In December 1979, Rifaat declared it was time to “respond with force” against the movement, calling on everyone to pledge their absolute loyalty. He was quoted as saying: “Stalin sacrificed 10 million people to protect the Bolshevik revolution. Syria must do the same to protect the Baath revolution.” He threatened to wage a “hundred wars, destroy a million forts and sacrifice a million lives” to preserve the state-regime. He let loose in suppressing the uprising between 1979 and 1982. The situation reached its peak when he struck Hama in February 1982.

In 1983, he sent his paratroopers to Damascus with the command to remove the hijab off women on the streets. The move was met with widespread criticism, even his brother openly condemned him.

Edge of danger
When Hafez fell ill in November 1983, it appeared that the moment Rifaat had long awaited had arrived. He began to act as though he were the “legitimate heir”, seeing himself as the only heir. He began to rally the support of his generals, drawing the extreme ire of the president.

Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam recalled the tense situation in his memoirs, which were seen by Asharq Al-Awsat. He said he met with Hafez in March 1978 to address the extreme campaign against Rifaat among the Syrians. “This campaign weakens the regime,” Khaddam told Hafez. “You must address the situation with Rifaat.”

Indeed, Rifaat was meddling in the affairs of state and ordering around Prime Minster Mohammed Ali Halabi, who did not dare speak out.

Khaddam added: “The president wanted his brother to succeed him, but Rifaat committed a major sin when he tried to revolt against him when he had fallen ill in November 1983.”

He recalled that Hafez had at one point in 1980 told him that he wanted to appoint a vice president for the sake of “continuity, because no one knows when their time will come.” Khaddam, who was foreign minister at the time, understood that he was referring to Rifaat. His attempted coup, however, made his brother change his mind.

Remembering the failed coup, Khaddam said that when Hafez fell ill in November 1983, commander of the republican guard, Adnan Makhlouf, informed him that the president wanted to see him at hospital. “I believed that he was a victim of an assassination attempt,” said Khaddam. “I asked: ‘Was he shot or targeted by a bomb?’ to which Makhlouf replied: ‘He was struck by a heart attack.’ I headed to the hospital immediately.”

The next day, Lebanese President Amin Gemayel was scheduled to visit Syria. Hafez asked Khaddam to postpone the visit and to cite “his preoccupation with internal matters”. When Hafez left the ICU, Khaddam contacted army commander Hikmat al-Shihabi and asked him to come to the hospital. “We agreed to take measures that would avert attempts to blow up the situation in Syria, because I was fearful of Rifaat.”

Khaddam recalled how at one point he was on the phone with the Syrian ambassador to London to request that a doctor be flown over immediately. He demanded that the best doctor be sent to Syria. He had made a similar request to the envoy in Washington. Rifaat walked in at that moment and asked why should doctors be brought from abroad? Syria has doctors, he declared. Should doctors be brought in from abroad whenever anyone falls ill? Khaddam replied: “Your brother is called Hafez al-Assad, not Hafez Khaddam. It is my responsibility to provide all conditions for his recovery because I know what sort of chaos will happen if he is gone.”

Later, Khaddam said the American ambassador revealed to him that an American envoy was coming to Damascus to meet with Rifaat. He responded: “We won’t allow him to come. Syria has a state. If the United States wanted to contact us, then it should do so through the state that I represent as foreign minister.”

The next day, the Defense Companies paraded through the streets of Damascus and Rifaat declared to the people: “I am coming.” Soon after, Khaddam met with the military, Shihabi and Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass. “We agreed to bring in two units from outside Damascus. They surrounded the city and the situation became tense. When senior officers who had pledged allegiance to Rifaat found out that Hafez was out of danger, they abandoned his brother. Rifaat became isolated.”

Tense meeting
At the time, the Central Command held a meeting. Everyone was shocked at the large numbers of Defense Companies members. Addressing the meeting, Rifaat said: “The Central Command must expel from the party Ali Duba (chief of military intelligence), Ibrahim Safi (commander of Syrian forces in Lebanon), Ali Haidar (commander of the special forces) and Mohammed Khawli (director of air force intelligence) because they are insulting me. I am the brother of the president. I should be treated like the president. If you don’t take a decision, then my forces will immediately occupy Damascus.”

Some of the members of the Central Command appeared hesitant. General Mustafa then addressed the gatherers: “These are your brothers. The problem can be solved if you meet together.” Khaddam then interjected, addressing Rifaat, he said: “You want to launch a coup? Go ahead. If every officer with a tank and soldiers wants to ride on our shoulders, then that is a dangerous thing. You have the tanks. Go ahead, make your move.” Rifaat was gradually becoming angrier. “I never said such a thing,” he retorted. Khaddam replied knowingly: “The discussion was recorded.”

After the meeting, Khaddam contacted Hafez to inform him of what happened. The president said he will check with Zuhair Masharqa, who was a member of the Central Command. Minutes later, Hafez told Khaddam that Masharqa had informed him that Rifaat did not make any threatening remarks. Khaddam told Hafez to check with the minister of defense and commander of the army because Masharqa was loyal to Rifaat. After around a quarter of an hour, Hafez contacted Khaddam again. “What you said was right. Zuhair is a coward and he lied to me,” said Hafez.

‘I am the regime’
In February 1984, Hafez carried out his retaliation. He ordered the arrest of Salim Barakat, Rifaat’s security aide. He also sent a message through their other brother, Jamil, to Rifaat, saying: “I am your older brother, whom you must obey. Do not forget that I am the one who made you.”

In March 1984, Hafez appointed Rifaat as vice president but with no official duties. In fact, this was not a form of promotion, but an attempt to curb Rifaat’s power through appointing him to a purely political role, one that would be under the constant watchful eye of the president. His security duties, as commander of the Defense Companies, were referred to Mohammed Ghanem.

Khaddam recalled how Rifaat’s appointment was announced. He said Hafez called the Central Command to meet in early March 1984. He informed the leadership that he had decided to appoint three vice presidents. He said he alone has the right to make such an order and name the officials, who were Rifaat Assad, Zuhair Masharqa and Abdul Halim Khaddam.

“I immediately told him that I didn’t want to be vice president or serve in any government or party position,” said Khaddam. “Hafez ended the meeting and then called me to his office. He asked me: ‘Why did you object?’ I replied: ‘How can you put Rifaat and Zuhair above me? Rifaat should be in jail, not act as first deputy to the president. I have worked tirelessly to serve my country. I will not practice any state or partisan work.’ He told: ‘Then take over the position of secretary of the Central Command.’ I rejected his offer and went home.”

“After about an hour, he called me back to his office. He welcomed me back with a laugh: ‘You are stubborn.’ He informed me that he issued a decree naming me as first vice president, followed by Rifaat and then Zuhair. I asked him what a vice president does. He replied that he is in charge of foreign policy. Soon after the decree was announced and I accepted.”

On March 30, 1984, Rifaat responded to the move. His soldiers entered Damascus with clear orders to seize power. They took over strategic positions throughout the capital and its surroundings. Rifaat’s forces clashes with Hafezloyalists, such as Ali Haidar of the special forces and Adnan Makhlouf of the republican guard.

Patrick Seale, author of Assad’s biography, “Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East,” wrote that had the two sides struck each other in the capital, the destruction would have been massive and the image of the regime would have been irreparably damaged. Hafez left the noose dangling enough for Rifaat to hang himself.

Hafez was in full military uniform, accompanied by his oldest son Bassel, who was to become his father’s right-hand man until his death in a car accident in 1994.

Hafez drove his car alone without any guards to confront Rifaat at the headquarters of his military command. Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass recalled the developments in a book, “Three months that shook Syria”. “Adnan Makhlouf, commander of the republican guard, informed me that Mr. president has headed alone to his brother’s headquarters in Mazzeh. He said the president had told him that if he was not back in an hour, then Tlass must carry out the plan (of confronting Rifaat’s forces),” wrote Tlass.

“Do you want to overthrow the regime?” Hafez asked Rifaat. “Here I am. I am the regime!” They argued and then Hafez offered Rifaat a way out, vowing to respect his dignity and interests and provide him with a safe exit to exile of his choosing. He promised that he would not arrest him.

In late April 1984, Rifaat sensed that the balance of power had started to lean in his brother’s favor to an extent that he could no longer move. He contacted his brother Jamil so that he could mediate a reconciliation and to say that he was ready to do anything the president wanted. Hafez was impatiently waiting for Rifaat to collapse and resign himself to the authority. He won the waiting game. Then the difficult negotiations began.

They agreed that the Defense Companies would come under the authority of the operations command in the armed forces. Rifaat would remain as vice president tasked with security affairs. They agreed that senior officers would travel with him to Moscow. On May 28, 1984, a plane carrying Rifaat and his senior officers flew to Moscow to cool down. They were summoned one by one back to Syria and Rifaat alone remained in exile.

‘My brother doesn’t love me’
It was said that prior to leaving Syria, Rifaat had thrown a huge banquet for his friends. “It appears as though my brother no longer loves me. When he sees me, he frowns. I am not an American agent. I did not conspire against my country,” he told them. “If I were a fool, I would have destroyed the entire city, but I love this place. My men have been here for 18 years, the people are used to us and they love us. Now the commandos want to kick us out.”

Rifaat returned to Syria in 1992 at the wishes of his mother, who died later that year. In 1994, he extended his condolences to Hafez when his son Bassel died. Later that year, he was discharged from his position in the army and kept his post as vice president before later being relieved of his duties.

In 1999, his supporters clashed in a gunfight with government forces in Latakia. He set up a satellite channel in London in September 1997. He established his own party in Europe that is headed by his son, Sumer. The party had called for political change and was met with criticism by loyalists and the opposition.

When Hafez died on June 10, 2000, he issued a statement to elegize him. He claimed to be his heir, but his calls fell on deaf ears. Khaddam ordered Rifaat’s arrest should he attempt to attend his brother’s funeral.

After the eruption of the 2011 protests in Syria, Rifaat stood against the regime. His son, Ribal, is openly involved in politics. Rifaat’s presence in the media gradually faded. He appeared during the presidential elections this year when he voted for his nephew at the Syrian consulate in Paris. He then sent a cable of congratulation to Bashar on his reelection. On Thursday, he returned to Syria.



Biden Avoids a Further Mideast Spiral as Israel and Iran Show Restraint. But for How Long?

US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)
US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)
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Biden Avoids a Further Mideast Spiral as Israel and Iran Show Restraint. But for How Long?

US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)
US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, US, April 19, 2024. (Reuters)

President Joe Biden can breathe a bit easier, at least for the moment, now that Israel and Iran appear to have stepped back from the brink of tipping the Middle East into all-out war.

Israel's retaliatory strikes on Iran and Syria caused limited damage. The restrained action came after Biden urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to temper its response to Iran's unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week and avoid an escalation of violence in the region. Iran's barrage of drones and missiles inflicted little damage and followed a suspected Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus this month that killed two generals.

Iran's public response to the Israeli strikes Friday also was muted, raising hopes that Israel-Iran tensions — long carried out in the shadows with cyberattacks, assassinations and sabotage — will stay at a simmer.

The situation remains a delicate one for Biden as he gears up his reelection effort in the face of headwinds in the Middle East, Russia and the Indo-Pacific. All are testing the proposition he made to voters during his 2020 campaign that a Biden White House would bring a measure of calm and renewed respect for the United States on the world stage.

Foreign policy matters are not typically the top issue for American voters. This November is expected to be no different, with the economy and border security carrying greater resonance.

But public polling suggests that overseas concerns could have more relevance with voters than in any US election since 2006, when voter dissatisfaction over the Iraq War was a major factor in the Republican Party losing 30 House and six Senate seats.

“We see this issue rising in saliency, and at the same time we're seeing voter appraisals of President Biden's handling of foreign affairs being quite negative,” said Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “That combination is not a great one for Biden.”

Biden has staked enormous political capital on his response to the Israel-Hamas war as well as his administration's backing of Ukraine as it fends off a Russian invasion.

The apparent de-escalation of tensions between Israel and Iran also comes as Congress moves closer to approving $95 billion in wartime aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a measure that Biden has pushed for as Ukrainian forces run desperately short on arms.

After months of delay in the face of the threat of ouster by his party’s right flank, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., pushed the package forward and final House passage was expected this weekend. That prospect — and a surge of weaponry to the front lines — is giving the White House renewed hope that Ukraine can right the ship after months of setbacks in the war.

Biden also has made bolstering relations in the Indo-Pacific a central focus of his foreign policy agenda, looking to win allies and build ties as China becomes a more formidable economic and military competitor.

But Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have an argument to make that Biden’s policies have contributed to US dealing with myriad global quandaries, said Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Washington think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

Republicans have criticized Biden's unsuccessful efforts earlier in his term to revive a nuclear deal with Iran brokered by the Obama administration and abandoned by Trump, saying that would embolden Tehran. The agreement had provided Iran with billions in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program.

GOP critics have sought to connect Russia's invasion of Ukraine to Biden's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and they blame the Obama administration for not offering a strong enough response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's 2014 seizure of Crimea.

“You can make an intellectual case, a policy case of how we got from Point A to B to C to D and ended up in a world on fire,” said Goldberg, a national security official in the Trump administration. “People may not care about how we got here, but they do care that we are here.”

Polling suggests Americans' concerns about foreign policy issues are growing, and there are mixed signs of whether Biden's pitch as a steady foreign policy hand is resonating with voters.

About 4 in 10 US adults named foreign policy topics in an open-ended question that asked people to share up to five issues for the government to work on in 2024, according to The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published in January. That’s about twice as many as mentioned the topic in an AP- NORC poll conducted in the previous year.

Further, about 47% of Americans said they believe Biden has hurt relations with other countries, according to an AP-NORC poll published this month. Similarly, 47% said the same about Trump.

Biden was flying high in the first six months of his presidency, with the American electorate largely approving of his performance and giving him high marks for his handling of the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. But the president saw his approval ratings tank in the aftermath of the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in August 2021 and they never fully recovered.

Now, Biden finds himself dealing with uncertainty of two wars. Both could shadow him right up to Election Day.

With the Israel-Hamas war, Republicans pillory him as being not being adequately supportive of Israel, and the left wing of his party harshly criticize the president, who has shown displeasure with Netanyahu's prosecution of the war, for not doing more to force the Israelis to safeguard Palestinian lives.

After Israel's carefully calibrated strikes on Iran, Middle East tensions have entered a “gray area” that all parties must navigate carefully, said Aaron David Miller, an adviser on Middle East issues in Republican and Democratic administrations.

“Does what has occurred over the last 10 days strengthen each sides' risk-readiness or has it made them drop back from the brink and revert into risk aversion?” Miller said. “Israel and Iran got away with striking each other's territory without a major escalation. What conclusions do they draw from that? Is the conclusion that we might be able to do this again? Or is it we really dodged a bullet here and we have to be exceedingly careful.”

Israel and Hamas appear far away from an agreement on a temporary ceasefire that would facilitate the release of remaining hostages in Hamas-controlled Gaza and help get aid into the territory. It's an agreement that Biden sees as essential to finding an endgame to the war.

CIA Director William Burns expressed disappointment this past week that Hamas has not yet accepted a proposal that Egyptian and Qatari negotiators had presented this month. He blamed the group for "standing in the way of innocent civilians in Gaza getting humanitarian relief that they so desperately need.”

At the same time, the Biden administration has tried to demonstrate it is holding Israel accountable, imposing new penalties Friday on two entities accused of fundraising for extremist Israel settlers that were already under sanctions, as well as the founder of an organization whose members regularly assault Palestinians.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan and other administration officials met on Thursday with Israel's minister for strategic affairs, Ron Dermer, and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi. US officials, according to the White House, reiterated Biden's concerns about Israel's plans to carry out an operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where some 1.5 million Palestinians have taken shelter.

Ross Baker, professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University, said Biden may have temporarily benefited from Israeli-Iranian tensions driving attention away from the deprivation in Gaza.

“Sometimes salvation can come in unexpected ways,” Baker said. “But the way ahead has no shortage of complications.”


Russia Quietly Exits Karabakh, Ceding Its Clout ‘For Good'

A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024. (EPA /Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / Handout)
A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024. (EPA /Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / Handout)
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Russia Quietly Exits Karabakh, Ceding Its Clout ‘For Good'

A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024. (EPA /Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / Handout)
A still image taken from a handout video made available by the Russian Defense Ministry Press-Service shows the beginning of the process of withdrawal from Azerbaijan of the Russian peacekeeping contingent stationed in Karabakh, Kalbajar district, Azerbaijan, 17 April 2024. (EPA /Russian Defense Ministry Press Service / Handout)

When Russian troops deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh four years ago, their task was clear: keep the peace between bitter foes Armenia and Azerbaijan and prevent another war in the volatile region.

But as Azerbaijani forces swept through mountainous Karabakh last September and crushed Armenian separatist forces in a matter of hours, the Russian mission looked lost.

The Kremlin this week quietly confirmed that the peacekeepers were withdrawing, taking with them their weapons and hardware, as well as Russian clout from a region it long considered its own backyard.

Moscow ruled over the Caucasus region first during the Russian empire and then in the Soviet era. When war broke out between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the USSR's collapse, Moscow sought to mediate.

The Kremlin deployed almost 2,000 troops in 2020 as part of a ceasefire deal that halted six weeks of brutal fighting between the arch-foes over the Karabakh region.

The accord held until the lightning Azerbaijani offensive last September that ignited an exodus of more than 100,000 Armenians from Karabakh and deepened their frustration with Moscow.

Russia 'betrayed us'

"Along with the Russians leaving Karabakh, the last hope that the population will return home is gone," said Iveta Margaryan, a 53-year-old trained accountant on the streets of Armenia's capital.

"The Russians have betrayed us," she added.

Observers of the Caucasus say Russia is too caught up with its invasion of Ukraine to retain its sway in the region.

Azerbaijan has recently deepened ties with Türkiye -- a close military and political partner with shared cultural ties. And with the pullout from Karabakh, Moscow has further alienated Armenia.

Yerevan has criticized Moscow's perceived shortfalls, with Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan busy forging closer ties with the West.

In February, he froze Yerevan's participation in the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, a defense grouping of several ex-Soviet states.

Yerevan also joined the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Moscow's wishes -- a move that obligates it to arrest Vladimir Putin should he visit Armenia.

The European Union and United States are now leading efforts to broker a peace agreement between the Caucasus foes, with Moscow stuck playing second fiddle.

'Shattered' myth

Moscow's unease over Armenia's rapprochement with the West has also become public. The foreign ministry this week demanded that Yerevan "disavow" reports it was deepening military ties with Western countries.

France -- home to a large Armenian diaspora -- has also planted a flag in the region, intensifying its diplomatic backing for Yerevan and providing cutting-edge defensive radars and missiles. "Russia is out, the West is in," said Azerbaijani political scientist Eldar Namazov.

The Russian peacekeepers were meant to "project influence," said Gela Vasadze, senior fellow at the Georgian Strategic Analysis Centre.

But their withdrawal has clearly illustrated the limits of Russia's power, he told AFP.

"The myth that Russian boots never leave territories they had once stepped in is shattered."

Shahinoglu said Putin had withdrawn from Karabakh to keep up friendly relations with Azerbaijan and Türkiye at a time when the Kremlin is isolated over the Ukraine war.

But in doing so, Russia has lost its ability to "exploit" Armenian separatism in the Caucasus and leverage it for regional influence, he said.

"Russia has lost its historical footholds in the Caucasus for good."

That sentiment was echoed in Azerbaijan, where the announcement of the Russian drawdown was met with joy and relief.

"People say Russian troops don't ever voluntarily leave," said Ramil Iskenderov, a 37-year-old courier.

"Azerbaijan proved that with the right policy it's possible to achieve the impossible," he told AFP.

In Armenia, where Russia still maintains a military base, the peacekeepers' withdrawal was a final straw for some that meant Yerevan should sever military ties with Moscow.

"Russia has once again betrayed the Armenian people and sold us out. That's it," said Valery Harutyunyan, who lived in Karabakh before fleeing to Armenia in September.

"We can't rely on the Russians again. It's impossible. We should kick Russians out -- not only from Karabakh -- but also from Armenia," he told AFP.


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.