Iran Creating Another ‘Southern Suburb’ Near Damascus

The shrine of Sayyidah Zeinab south of Damascus. (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
The shrine of Sayyidah Zeinab south of Damascus. (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
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Iran Creating Another ‘Southern Suburb’ Near Damascus

The shrine of Sayyidah Zeinab south of Damascus. (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)
The shrine of Sayyidah Zeinab south of Damascus. (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights)

Iran is seeking to revive its expansion near the Syrian capital, Damascus, which it has always sought to do and was previously thwarted by Russia. Iran's objective is to create another “southern suburb”, commonly known as Dahieh, like the Hezbollah-dominated one in the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

The plan is to expand Iranian influence in the towns of the southern Damascus countryside adjacent to the Sayyidah Zeinab area.

Iran intends to do so by scaling up its purchase of homes and establishing new camps in areas adjacent to the zones of influence of Russia, which is currently preoccupied with its war in Ukraine.

The southeastern countryside of Damascus includes many towns and villages. The most important and largest of them are Babila, Yalda and Beit Sahem. These towns administratively belong to the Damascus countryside governorate and cover an area of about four square kilometers.

The Sayyidah Zeinab area, located about eight kilometers from Damascus, on the highway leading to Damascus International Airport, is the main stronghold of Iranian militias and their proxies in the southern countryside of Damascus.

Iran claims it is defending the Sayyidah Zeinab shrine, which is visited by thousands of Shiite pilgrims from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Before the war erupted in Syria about 12 years ago, most of the population of Babila, Yalda and Beit Sahem were Sunni Muslims.

After Damascus regained control of the area in the summer of 2018, through a reconciliation agreement sponsored by Russia, many local families started returning to the towns.

These families were approached by strangers looking to buy their homes and real estate. Only a few agreed to sell their properties.

Later, it became clear that those buying the houses were the families of fighters from militias affiliated with Iran.

Sources pointed out that many of the Iranian-backed militia fighters who moved into the area are originally from the Shiite towns of al-Foua and Kefraya in Syria’s Idlib countryside.



180 Dead from Sudan Fighting Buried Unidentified as Battles Rage

Smoke billows behind buildings in Khartoum on June 2, 2023, as fighting between Sudan's warring generals intensified. (AFP)
Smoke billows behind buildings in Khartoum on June 2, 2023, as fighting between Sudan's warring generals intensified. (AFP)
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180 Dead from Sudan Fighting Buried Unidentified as Battles Rage

Smoke billows behind buildings in Khartoum on June 2, 2023, as fighting between Sudan's warring generals intensified. (AFP)
Smoke billows behind buildings in Khartoum on June 2, 2023, as fighting between Sudan's warring generals intensified. (AFP)

Blasts rocked the Sudanese capital Saturday, as fighting between warring generals entered its eighth week, with volunteers forced to bury 180 bodies recovered from combat zones without identification.

Witnesses told AFP of "bombs falling and civilians being injured" in southern Khartoum, while others in the city's north reported "artillery fire", days after a US- and Saudi-brokered ceasefire collapsed.

Since fighting between Sudan's warring generals erupted on April 15, volunteers have buried 102 unidentified bodies in the capital's Al-Shegilab cemetery and 78 more in cemeteries in Darfur, the Sudanese Red Crescent said in a statement.

Both regular army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy-turned-rival, paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, have issued repeated pledges to protect civilians and secure humanitarian corridors.

But civilians reported escalated fighting after the army quit ceasefire talks on Wednesday, including a single army bombardment that killed 18 civilians in a Khartoum market, according to a committee of human rights lawyers.

Both sides have accused the other of violating the ceasefire, as well as attacking civilians and infrastructure.

Washington slapped sanctions on the warring parties Thursday, holding them both responsible for provoking "appalling" bloodshed.

Not allowed in

In negotiations in Saudi Arabia last month, the warring parties had agreed to "enable responsible humanitarian actors, such as the Sudanese Red Crescent and/or the International Committee of the Red Cross to collect, register and bury the deceased".

But volunteers have found it difficult to move through the streets to pick up the dead, "due to security constraints", the Red Crescent said.

Aid corridors that had been promised as part of the truce never materialized, and relief agencies say they have managed to deliver only a fraction of needs, while civilians remain trapped.

Over 700,000 people have fled the capital to other parts of Sudan that have been spared the fighting, in convoys of buses that regularly make their way out of Khartoum.

But on their way back, bus drivers were shocked to find they "were not allowed into the capital", one told AFP on Saturday, with others confirming authorities had blocked access since Friday, ordering the drivers to turn back.

The army had earlier on Friday announced it had brought in reinforcements from other parts of Sudan to participate in "operations in the Khartoum area".

That sparked fears it was planning "to launch a massive offensive," according to Sudan analyst Kholood Khair.

So far neither side has gained a decisive advantage. The regular army has air power and heavy weaponry, but analysts say the paramilitaries are more mobile and better suited to urban warfare.

The RSF announced Saturday its political advisor Youssef Ezzat had met with Kenyan President William Ruto in Nairobi, as part of his visits to several "friendly countries to explain the developing situation in Sudan".

"We are ready to engage all the parties and offer any support towards a lasting solution," Ruto said on Twitter.

More than 1,800 people have been killed in the fighting, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

Entire districts of the capital no longer have running water, electricity is only available for a few hours a week and three quarters of hospitals in combat zones are not functioning.

The situation is particularly dire in the western region of Darfur, which is home to around a quarter of Sudan's population and never recovered from a devastating two-decade war that left hundreds of thousands dead and more than two million displaced.

Renewed clashes were reported on Saturday in the town of Kutum in North Darfur, according to witnesses.

Amid what activists have called a total communications "blackout" in huge swathes of the region, hundreds of civilians have been killed, villages and markets torched and aid facilities looted, prompting tens of thousands to seek refuge in neighboring Chad.

According to aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF), those crossing the border report horrific scenes of "armed men shooting at people trying to flee, villages being looted and the wounded dying" without access to medical care.

The UN says 1.2 million people have been displaced within Sudan and more than 425,000 have fled abroad -- more than 100,000 west to Chad and 170,000 north to Egypt.


Gadhafi’s Son Goes on Hunger Strike in Lebanon to Protest Detention without Trial

Hannibal Gadhafi, son of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, watches an elite military unit exercise in Zlitan, Libya, Sept. 25, 2011. (AP)
Hannibal Gadhafi, son of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, watches an elite military unit exercise in Zlitan, Libya, Sept. 25, 2011. (AP)
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Gadhafi’s Son Goes on Hunger Strike in Lebanon to Protest Detention without Trial

Hannibal Gadhafi, son of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, watches an elite military unit exercise in Zlitan, Libya, Sept. 25, 2011. (AP)
Hannibal Gadhafi, son of late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, watches an elite military unit exercise in Zlitan, Libya, Sept. 25, 2011. (AP)

A son of Libya’s late leader Moammar Gadhafi, who has been held in Lebanon for more than seven years, began a hunger strike Saturday to protest his detention without trial, his lawyer said.

Hannibal Gadhafi has been held in Lebanon since 2015 after he was kidnapped from neighboring Syria where he had been living as a political refugee. He was abducted by Lebanese militants demanding information about the fate of a Shiite cleric who went missing in Libya 45 years ago.

Gadhafi was later taken by Lebanese authorities and has been held in a Beirut jail without trial.

Attorney Paul Romanos told The Associated Press that his client started the hunger strike Saturday morning and “he is serious and will continue with it until the end.” Romanos did not go into details of the case as he was not authorized to speak about it to the media.

Gadhafi issued a statement describing his conditions.

“How can a political prisoner be held without a fair trial all these years?” Gadhafi, who is married to a Lebanese woman, wrote in his statement.

The Libyan citizen added that now that he is on hunger strike, “those who are treating me unjustly” will be responsible for the results. He added that “the time has come to liberate the law from the hands of politicians.”

Romanos said his client suffers from back pain due to being held in a small cell for years without being able to move or exercise.

The disappearance of prominent Lebanese Shiite cleric Moussa al-Sadr in 1978 has been a long-standing sore point in Lebanon. The cleric’s family believes he may still be alive in a Libyan prison, though most Lebanese presume al-Sadr is dead. He would be 94 years old.

Al-Sadr was the founder of a Shiite political and military group that took part in the lengthy Lebanese civil war that began in 1975.

Born in the Iranian city of Qom, al-Sadr came to Lebanon in 1959 to work for the rights of Shiites in the southern port town of Tyre. In 1974, a year before Lebanon’s 15-year civil war broke out, al-Sadr founded the Movement of the Deprived, attracting thousands of followers.

The following year, he established the military wing Amal — Arabic for “hope” and an acronym for the militia’s Arabic name, the Lebanese Resistance Brigades — which later fought in the civil war. The group is headed by powerful parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Since al-Sadr’s disappearance, Libya has maintained that the cleric and his two traveling companions left Tripoli in 1978 on a flight to Rome and suggested he was a victim of a power struggle among Shiites.

Most of al-Sadr’s followers are convinced that Moammar Gadhafi ordered al-Sadr killed in a dispute over Libyan payments to Lebanese militias.

The Libyan leader was killed by opposition fighters in 2011, ending his four-decade rule of the north African country. Even after his death, al-Sadr’s fate is still unknown.

Hannibal Gadhafi was born two years before al-Sadr disappeared. He fled to Algeria after Tripoli fell, along with his mother and several other relatives. He later ended up in Syria where he was given political asylum before being kidnapped and brought to Lebanon.


Magnitude 5.9 Earthquake Strikes Gulf of Aden Region

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the Gulf of Aden region on Saturday. (USGS)
A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the Gulf of Aden region on Saturday. (USGS)
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Magnitude 5.9 Earthquake Strikes Gulf of Aden Region

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the Gulf of Aden region on Saturday. (USGS)
A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the Gulf of Aden region on Saturday. (USGS)

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck in the Gulf of Aden region on Saturday, the US Geological Survey said.

The earthquake struck at a depth of 10 km (6.21 miles), the USGS said.


Aboul Gheit: Saudi-Egyptian Consensus Leads to Fundamental Change in Arab Status

Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit
Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit
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Aboul Gheit: Saudi-Egyptian Consensus Leads to Fundamental Change in Arab Status

Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit
Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit

Secretary-General of the Arab League (AL), Ahmed Aboul Gheit, confirmed that an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Egypt, including the United Arab Emirates and some other Arab countries, especially in North Africa, “could lead to a fundamental change in the general Arab situation and the outside world.”

He added that the entente between Egypt and Gulf States during the years that followed Egypt's uprising in 2011, greatly influences the Arab arena.

“Arab countries are greatly aware today of the importance of joint Arab action to save the region,” Aboul Gheit affirmed.

The AL Secretary General told Egypt’s “eXtra News” channel that the major Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt were capable of stopping foreign interference in Arab affairs.

Aboul Gheit then commented on reports speaking about a new Arab system, saying they “lack realism.”

He rejected the calls of some to expand the Arab world and make it a “Middle Eastern” system that includes Iran, Türkiye, Ethiopia and Israel, describing such suggestions as “unreasonable.”

He then affirmed that the latest decisions of the Arab summit in Jeddah regarding Türkiye and Iran were less intense than before.

Commenting on the Sudanese issue, Aboul Gheit said that a year ago, he had predicted this clash to occur, noting that neither the Sudanese armed forces nor any armed forces in any Arab country can allow the presence of an armed militia on its soil.

On Syria’s response to the Arab role after Damascus regained its seat in the Arab League, Aboul Gheit said he expects the Syrian performance to be “calm and balanced.”

He then hoped that the Syrian delegation to the AL expresses no resentment against the League, which is a reflection of Arab will.

Aboul Gheit explained that in 2011 and 2012, some Arab countries took positions against foreign interference in Syria.

“Syria suffers from a difficult situation, and has not yet recovered since 2011,” he added.

At the international level, he said the situation is increasingly dangerous in light of the rising possibilities of confrontation between nuclear States, describing the confrontation taking place against the backdrop of the Russian-Ukrainian war as “a dangerous moment in the life of humanity.”

Aboul Gheit then expected the emergence of new international powers. He spoke about a "Eurasian" bloc, an alliance between Russia and China that extends from the Ukrainian border and reaches the Pacific Ocean or the eastern shore of China.

He said this bloc will face a stronger economic bloc, the “Western bloc” led by the European Union and the US.

“China is closely monitoring what is happening now in terms of developments, and is preparing for a possible confrontation in the coming years,” the AL Secretary General said.

 


Three Israeli Soldiers, Egyptian Security Officer Killed in Border Gunfire Incident

The Israeli and Egyptian flags are seen at a border crossing, (Reuters file photo)
The Israeli and Egyptian flags are seen at a border crossing, (Reuters file photo)
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Three Israeli Soldiers, Egyptian Security Officer Killed in Border Gunfire Incident

The Israeli and Egyptian flags are seen at a border crossing, (Reuters file photo)
The Israeli and Egyptian flags are seen at a border crossing, (Reuters file photo)

Three Israeli soldiers and an Egyptian security officer were killed near the countries' border on Saturday, Israel and Egypt said, in an incident whose details remained unclear but which the countries said they were investigating jointly.

The Israeli military said an Egyptian policeman shot and killed two of its soldiers while they secured a military post at the Egyptian border early on Saturday, after forces successfully thwarted a large smuggling attempt overnight.

It said the Egyptian officer and a third Israeli soldier were killed hours later in a confrontation inside Israeli territory.

As soon as the two Israeli soldiers were discovered dead, the military treated the incident as a terrorist attack, said Eliezer Toledano, the Israeli military's Southern Command chief.

Egypt's military said the three Israeli and one Egyptian security personnel had been killed in an exchange of fire as the Egyptian security officer chased smugglers across the frontier.

Egyptian and Israeli officials are probing the circumstances of the incident in full cooperation, the Israeli military and two Egyptian security sources said.

"We will not leave any question unresolved," including the possibility that the shooting was related to the smuggling activity overnight, said Toledano.

The Israeli military said it was unclear how the Egyptian officer crossed the border fence and soldiers were searching the area to rule out additional assailants.

An Israeli military spokesperson said two soldiers had been shot while on duty in a relatively desolate area along the desert border with Egypt on Saturday morning. Their bodies were found later, after they failed to answer the radio, the spokesperson added.

Once the military understood the incident was ongoing, soldiers identified an infiltration into Israeli territory, leading to a gunfight in which the assailant, an Egyptian policeman, and the third Israeli soldier, were killed, it said.

Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he conducted an assessment with the chief of staff and that the military "will investigate the event as required".

Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel and the more than 200km (124 miles) long border has largely remained calm.

The Israeli military spokesperson said that while drug smuggling attempts in the area were frequent, the last known infiltration into Israel that resulted in casualties happened some 10 years ago. 


Israel Complains to UN about Hezbollah Maneuvers

Israeli soldiers leave after an operation near the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah October 22, 2013. (Reuters)
Israeli soldiers leave after an operation near the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah October 22, 2013. (Reuters)
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Israel Complains to UN about Hezbollah Maneuvers

Israeli soldiers leave after an operation near the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah October 22, 2013. (Reuters)
Israeli soldiers leave after an operation near the West Bank village of Bilin, near Ramallah October 22, 2013. (Reuters)

Israel submitted an official complaint against Hezbollah to the UN Security Council regarding the recent military maneuvers conducted by the party .

Meanwhile, the Israeli Army launched an exceptionally large multifront military drill across the country to face any threat by Iran or its proxies in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip.

In the complaint also addressed to Secretary General Antonio Gueterres, the Permanent Representative of Israel to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said on Thursday that 700 Hezbollah fighters participated in the Lebanese party’s maneuvers that used live ammunition and were openly held in southern Lebanon near the border with Israel.

“The maneuvers dealt with anti-Israel scenarios, including infiltration into Israeli territory and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers or citizens,” the Israeli diplomat said.

In the complaint, Erdan considered these maneuvers a flagrant violation of Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559.

Israel demands the Lebanese government to impose state sovereignty over its territory, and prevent Hezbollah from turning Lebanon into a terrorist base, he said.

The Israeli diplomat then called on the Security Council to strongly condemn Iran and Hezbollah for their role in destabilizing the region, and said that “Israel will take all necessary measures to protect its citizens and its sovereignty.”

On Monday, Israel began a multifront air, sea, land and cyber drill that includes simulated Israeli strikes inside Iran as well as a surprise Israeli attack on Hezbollah and its power centers.

CENTCOM commander Gen. Michael Kurilla, along with the Israeli Army Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, attended the first three days of the two-week long Israeli drill.

Israeli troops from the standing and reserve army, from nearly all units, would participate in the exercise — dubbed Firm Hand.

The forces will practice handling challenges and sudden events, simultaneously on multiple fronts including in Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

An Israeli Army spokesperson said the forces involve the Israel Air Force, Navy, ground force, and units active on the electromagnetic spectrum and in the cyber arena.

But he said the exercise will focus on the northern borders, led by Northern Command’s 91st “Galilee” Division, responsible for defending against Hezbollah from Lebanon, and the 36th Ga’ash (Golan) Armored Division, which is responsible for the Syrian border.

The first week of the drill tests these divisions’ ability to deal with attacks from the northern front, he said.

 


Lebanon's Berri to Asharq Al-Awsat: Paris Still Supports Franjieh’s Presidential Bid

Speaker Nabih Berri during the tallying of votes during a past presidential elections session. (AFP)
Speaker Nabih Berri during the tallying of votes during a past presidential elections session. (AFP)
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Lebanon's Berri to Asharq Al-Awsat: Paris Still Supports Franjieh’s Presidential Bid

Speaker Nabih Berri during the tallying of votes during a past presidential elections session. (AFP)
Speaker Nabih Berri during the tallying of votes during a past presidential elections session. (AFP)

Lebanese parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said he has not yet “seen encouraging signs” that would prompt him to call for a presidential election session, given that as of yet, there are no two serious candidates for the post.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, he again stressed that he will not call for elections before his condition for having serious candidates be met.

He noted that the nomination of former minister Jihad Azour has not been formalized and continues to be discussed between the opposition and Free Patriotic Movement.

Lebanon has been without a president since late October. Eleven elections sessions have been held, but no candidate garnered enough votes to be named winner given the disagreements between the political parties.

Berri said months ago that he would only call for an elections session if political parties are in consensus over the names of candidates.

Berri told Asharq Al-Awsat that “if we wanted a repeat of previous elections sessions, I would have called for elections every week.”

But given a lack of serious candidates “and out of respect for the legislature, which has become a laughingstock by many, I won’t,” he stressed.

Moreover, the speaker said he was satisfied with France’s stance on the elections, revealing that it still supports the nomination of Marada Movement leader former minister Suleiman Franjieh.

Paris is working on securing a regional and international understanding on his candidacy, he revealed.

Saudi Arabia, he continued, is not opposed to Franjieh. It is not vetoing anyone’s nomination.

The Kingdom has called for the election of a president and demanded that he present a reform program. Only then will it judge and so will other countries, added Berri.

The speaker often ignores the criticism of some politicians, but recent US remarks that it may impose sanctions on figures – believed to be the speaker - whom it believes are impeding the elections, prompted him to issue a statement to clarify some points.

Berri believes that failure to call parliament to elect a president is not a form of obstruction. Rather, the lack of seriousness in tackling the elections is the greatest hurdle, he said.

“I will call parliament to a session as soon as serious candidates are available,” he stated. This includes the speaker’s preferred candidate, Franjieh, whom he believes is the “best choice to end the crisis”. He added that he is not opposed to any other candidate, “even if they were a rival”, saying he doesn’t view any of the potential nominees as his opponents.

On Azour, Berri said he will call for an election session as soon as his candidacy is formalized. Moreover, he dismissed speculation that the former minister could garner 68 votes in the elections, noting that the FPM has yet to officially back his nomination.


UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees Raises Just $107 Million of $300 Million Needed to Help Millions

FILE - A bag of foodstuffs provided by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) lies in a cart as Palestinians collect food aid following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, May 22, 2021.  (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
FILE - A bag of foodstuffs provided by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) lies in a cart as Palestinians collect food aid following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, May 22, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
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UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees Raises Just $107 Million of $300 Million Needed to Help Millions

FILE - A bag of foodstuffs provided by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) lies in a cart as Palestinians collect food aid following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, May 22, 2021.  (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
FILE - A bag of foodstuffs provided by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) lies in a cart as Palestinians collect food aid following a cease-fire reached after an 11-day war between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel, in Gaza City, May 22, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Despite a dire warning from the UN chief that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees “is on the verge of financial collapse,” donors at a pledging conference on Friday provided just $107 million in new funds — significantly less than the $300 million it needs to keep helping millions of people.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the agency known as UNRWA, said he was grateful for the new pledges but they are below the funds needed to keep over 700 schools and 140 clinics open from September through December, The Associated Press said.

“We will continue to work tirelessly with our partners, including host countries — the refugees’ top supporters — to raise the funds needed,” he said in a statement.

At the beginning of the year, UNRWA appealed for $1.6 billion for its programs, operations and emergency response across Syria, Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and Jordan. That includes nearly $850 million for its core budget, which includes running schools and health clinics.

According to UNRWA, donors on Friday announced $812.3 million in pledges, but just $107.2 million were new contributions. The countries pledging new funds were not announced.

Lazzarini told a press conference Thursday that UNRWA needs $150 million to keep all services running until the end of the year, and an additional $50 million to start 2024 without liabilities. In addition, he said, the agency needs $75 million to keep the food pipeline in Gaza operating and about $30 million for its cash distribution program in Syria and Lebanon.

UNRWA was founded in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 to provide hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes with education, health care, social services and in some cases jobs. Today, their numbers — with descendants — have grown to some 5.9 million people, most in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as neighboring countries in the Middle East.

UNRWA has faced a financial crisis for 10 years, but Lazzarini said the current crisis is “massive,” calling it “our main existential threat.”

“It is deepening, and our ability to muddle through is slowly but surely coming to an end,” he said. “The situation is even more critical now that some of our committed donors have indicated that the will substantially decrease their contribution to the agency.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a speech read by his chief of staff at the start of the pledging conference that “when UNRWA’s future hangs in the balance so do the lives of millions of Palestine refugees relying on essential services.”

Those services include education for over half a million girls and boys, health care for around 2 million people, job opportunities for young people in Gaza and elsewhere, psycho-social support for hundreds of thousands of children, and a social safety net for nearly half a million of the poorest Palestinians, he said. More than 1.2 million Palestinians also receive humanitarian assistance.


UN Calls for Immediate Cease-fire in Sudan and Path to Renewed Democratic Transition Talks

Sudanese army soldiers rest next to a building in Khartoum on May 25, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
Sudanese army soldiers rest next to a building in Khartoum on May 25, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
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UN Calls for Immediate Cease-fire in Sudan and Path to Renewed Democratic Transition Talks

Sudanese army soldiers rest next to a building in Khartoum on May 25, 2023. (Photo by AFP)
Sudanese army soldiers rest next to a building in Khartoum on May 25, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

The UN Security Council called Friday for an immediate cease-fire in Sudan to be followed by a permanent halt to hostilities and fresh efforts to reach a lasting democratic political settlement in the conflict-wracked country.

The UN’s most powerful body strongly condemned all attacks on civilians since fighting between rival generals vying for power broke out in mid-April and called for “rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Sudan” to help millions in need.

The fighting has killed at least 866 civilians and wounded thousands more, according to the Sudanese Doctors’ Syndicate which tracks civilian casualties. And more than 1.3 million people have fled their homes to try to escape the violence, with over a million still in the country and 320,000 in neighboring Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.

The press statement from the council was issued before the council voted unanimously to extend the UN political mission in Sudan for six months, instead of a year, to give members time to see what happens on the ground and consider its future.

United Arab Emirates Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, the current council president, called it “very positive” that all members not only voted to extend the UN mission but united behind a “very substantive” statement “that lays out the council’s expectations of what should happen next in Sudan -- and that is clearly an immediate and permanent cease-fire arrangement.”

The Security Council underlined the need “for strengthened international coordination and continued collaboration” and reaffirmed “their firm support for African leadership,” noting the African Union’s six-point roadmap to resolve the conflict as well as efforts by the Arab League and the regional group IGAD.

Gabon’s UN Ambassador Michel Biang told the council after the vote that the security situation in Sudan continues to worsen.

“The country is at a critical stage of its history with a heightened risk of civil war if the conflict continues,” he warned, speaking on behalf of the two other African members on the council, Ghana and Mozambique, as well. “And there is, if that occurs, a grave risk of serious consequences being visited upon all countries in the region.”

Biang stressed that the presence of the UN mission “is now more important than ever before to coordinate the UN’s response to the complex challenges plaguing the country.”

On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres asked to brief the council behind closed doors for only the fifth time since he took office in January 2017 about the impact of the ongoing conflict on the UN mission known as UNITAMS. It was established by the council on June 3, 2020, to provide support to Sudan during its political transition to democratic rule.

In a brief statement to reporters after the meeting, the UN chief said he told the 15 council members it’s up to them to decide whether to continue the political mission to Sudan or whether “it’s time to end it.”

Following the ouster of Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir in 2019, Sudan embarked on a shaky democratic transition led by civilian and army leaders. But the generals seized complete power in a coup in October 2021, before turning against each other.

Sudanese leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who heads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, agreed to restore the transition but clashed over the terms of the RSF’s merger into the army, a disagreement that exploded into open conflict on April 15.

A week ago, Burhan demanded in a letter to Guterres that the UN special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, be removed, saying his approach in pre-war talks between the generals helped inflame the conflict and accusing him of “being partisan.” The UN chief was “shocked” by the letter.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Guterres said he reaffirmed to the council “my full confidence in Volker Perthes.”


Lebanon’s Hezbollah Says Not Linked to Accused in Peacekeeper Killing

An Irish UN peacekeeper stands next to the coffin of his comrade Pvt. Sean Rooney, who was killed during a confrontation with residents near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya on Wednesday night, during a memorial service, at Beirut airport, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP)
An Irish UN peacekeeper stands next to the coffin of his comrade Pvt. Sean Rooney, who was killed during a confrontation with residents near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya on Wednesday night, during a memorial service, at Beirut airport, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP)
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Lebanon’s Hezbollah Says Not Linked to Accused in Peacekeeper Killing

An Irish UN peacekeeper stands next to the coffin of his comrade Pvt. Sean Rooney, who was killed during a confrontation with residents near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya on Wednesday night, during a memorial service, at Beirut airport, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP)
An Irish UN peacekeeper stands next to the coffin of his comrade Pvt. Sean Rooney, who was killed during a confrontation with residents near the southern town of Al-Aqbiya on Wednesday night, during a memorial service, at Beirut airport, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP)

Lebanon's Hezbollah on Friday denied that five men accused by a military tribunal of killing an Irish UN peacekeeper in 2022 were linked to the armed party.

A court document filed on Thursday had identified some of the five as members of Hezbollah and allied movement Amal, according to a senior Lebanese judicial source.

Hezbollah media official Mohammad Afif said the five accused were not members of the group, which controls the part of southern Lebanon where last year's attack took place, and also denied that the indictment had described them as Hezbollah members.

Private Sean Rooney, 23, was killed on Dec. 15 in the first fatal attack on UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeepers in Lebanon since 2015.

Afif said Hezbollah had played a big role after the killing in reducing tensions and in local people's cooperation with the army and judicial investigation.

His comments are the first by a Hezbollah official since Thursday's reported indictment. The Amal Movement, which is headed by parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri, has so far declined to comment.

The judicial source had said evidence was drawn from camera recordings in which the accused refer to themselves as members of Hezbollah. A second judicial source confirmed that camera evidence was mentioned in the 30-page court document.

Hezbollah has previously denied involvement in the killing, calling it an "unintentional incident" that took place solely between the town's residents and the peacekeepers.