Quake Pushes Forward Normalization Efforts with Syria as Assad Heads to Oman

15 February 2023, Syria, Damascus: A photo released by the official Syrian Arab news agency (SANA) on 15 February shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaking with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi. (SANA/dpa)
15 February 2023, Syria, Damascus: A photo released by the official Syrian Arab news agency (SANA) on 15 February shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaking with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi. (SANA/dpa)
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Quake Pushes Forward Normalization Efforts with Syria as Assad Heads to Oman

15 February 2023, Syria, Damascus: A photo released by the official Syrian Arab news agency (SANA) on 15 February shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaking with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi. (SANA/dpa)
15 February 2023, Syria, Damascus: A photo released by the official Syrian Arab news agency (SANA) on 15 February shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaking with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi. (SANA/dpa)

The earthquake that struck Syria and Türkiye two weeks ago, that left tens of thousands of people dead and left devastation in its wake, has raised several questions and critical challenges in Arab and western circles over how to respond to the catastrophe. This includes the possibility of distinguishing between Syria and the its ruling regime. It has also pushed forward efforts to normalize relations between Damascus with the Arab world and West.

The first global reaction to the humanitarian disaster was sympathy with the Syrian and Turkish people. It was nearly impossible for any country to express sympathy with Ankara without sympathizing with Damascus as well. This is a humanitarian, not a political disaster. The earthquake is not a civil war.

The main predicament was that the international recognition of the Turkish government does not extend to the same extent to the Damascus government. Yes, the latter does still represent Syria and Syrian “government” is increasingly replacing “regime” in foreign political rhetoric.

This government, however, remains suspended from the Arab League and continues to be boycotted by influential Arab and western countries. It is also still weighed down by a lengthy list of economic sanctions, accusations and damning reports against state institutions and figures over their handling of the crisis since the eruption of the protests in 2011.

The regions that were most affected by the earthquake lie outside of government control. The quake did also strike some government regions in Aleppo, Hama and Latakia.

Devastated and forgotten Syria

Syria has been abandoned and forgotten since the eruption of the war in Ukraine nearly a year ago. It has dropped from international and regional priorities. The earthquake, however, has again turned attention to the country.

A series of political contacts have been held between concerned Arab and non-Arab countries. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has also received a series of telephone calls that would have been unheard of in recent years. He was contacted by Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and was visited in Damascus by Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi. It was the first visit by a Jordanian FM to Syria in years.

On the diplomatic levels, western countries demanded the adoption of a new United Nations resolution that would reopen land borders between Türkiye and opposition-held Syrian regions. Moscow had initially mulled an exchange that would include its approval of the proposal in return for increasing western funding of “early recovery” projects in Syria.

Arab and international contacts with Damascus, however, yielded a deal: another indirect exchange. Assad continues to underline “Syria’s sovereignty over all its territories” in return for his agreement to reopen two more border crossings between Türkiye and northern Syria for three months. He agreed to the delivery of aid from government-held regions to opposition-held Idlib.

Washington also agreed to suspending some sanctions related to bank transfers for six months so as to facilitate humanitarian aid.

Further official contacts and visits between Arab officials and Assad culminated in more leniency: more aid and planes loaded with relief were allowed in Syria without extensive searches. Official field visits were carried out to quake-stricken regions. Official statements were delivered from those regions. The remarks were written on a prepared document and delivered before the cameras. They spoke of condoling the Syrians. They spoke of dialogue and expressed gratitude to “Arab brothers and friends.”

Absent from the remarks were Idlib, Hama, Aleppo and Latakia that were struck by the quake. Omitted were also mentions of “allies”, meaning Iran and Russia, and “occupation”, meaning the United States and Türkiye.

Normalization

The earthquake had mobilized normalization efforts. Arab countries that have normalized ties or were seeking to have used the disaster to intensify efforts through a series of telephone calls and visits. Assad will visit Oman and then the United Arab Emirates in the coming hours.

Some Arab countries have maintained their position towards Damascus that offers humanitarian aid to the victims and ensuring that conditions for the Syrian refugees’ return home are provided. At the same time, they continue to remind the world of Tehran’s ongoing alliance with Damascus, noting Iranian Quds Force commander Esmail Qaani’s visit to Aleppo in wake of the earthquake. He was the first official on the scene, beating the Syrians.

In Europe, the quake has exposed divisions over how to approach Damascus. Countries, such as Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Austria, that used to call for accepting the “status quo” in recent years, now believe that they are in a stronger position to press this demand.

They are now demanding that Europe reconsider its “three nos” in Syria: opposition to normalization, reconstruction and lifting of sanctions before progress is made in the political process.

Other European countries and the US have held coordination meetings in recent days to counter this argument: yes, the earthquake resulted in a humanitarian disaster that demands a response in Syria and Türkiye, but this does not mean abandoning the “three nos” and the political process.

The European division was evident in the position on a conference on Syria and Türkiye’s reconstruction that was called for by the European Union to be held late next month. Countries that have normalized ties with Damascus have called for the Syrian government to be invited and for political agendas to be dropped. They have also demanded calling off a donor conference that is set for Brussels in June. These countries have also said they were prepared to carry out direct unilateral moves with Damascus away from European consensus.

Several factors will determine how Arab and western forces approach Damascus in the coming months. This in turn will determine balances of power and alliances in Syria. One critical factor is how relief aid and funds will be delivered to the devastated region and just how committed various parties are to pledges made behind closed doors. These issues will gain significance in the coming weeks as the extent of the tragedy caused by the earthquake becomes clearer.



Children Play in Rubble of Gaza for Eid Holiday

Displaced Palestinian children play as they help disassemble their tent in southern Gaza's Rafah before heading to Khan Younis on April 11, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinian children play as they help disassemble their tent in southern Gaza's Rafah before heading to Khan Younis on April 11, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (AFP)
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Children Play in Rubble of Gaza for Eid Holiday

Displaced Palestinian children play as they help disassemble their tent in southern Gaza's Rafah before heading to Khan Younis on April 11, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (AFP)
Displaced Palestinian children play as they help disassemble their tent in southern Gaza's Rafah before heading to Khan Younis on April 11, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. (AFP)

Girls played on a makeshift seesaw in a Gaza bomb site this week while boys chased across rubble with plastic guns, their games reflecting an Eid al-Fitr holiday dominated by the war that has devastated the enclave.

Six months of an Israeli air and ground campaign in Gaza have changed all aspects of life, with most people driven from their homes, parts of the enclave facing famine, and disease spreading through the tent cities where many now live.

Eid al-Fitr, the festival that ends the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, is usually a time for family celebrations including gifts of new toys for children.

This year, few can afford new toys, or find any in market stalls since Israel halted commercial imports into Gaza as part of its offensive to destroy Hamas, launched after the group mounted an armed rampage in Israel on Oct. 7.

"We built this game because all our toys have been destroyed and our houses have been destroyed and there's nothing for us to play with except this pipe," said Magd Dahman, 14, one of a group of children who made the seesaw in the rubble of a bomb site.

The children of that part of Jabalia refugee camp, near Gaza City in the most damaged northern part of the tiny, crowded Gaza Strip, crowd around the seesaw in a Reuters video, sitting three-in-a-row on the long pipe it is made from.

One boy, Mohamed Abu al-Qomsan, 14, plays a drum with his hands and signs sang as others gather round, and two small girls in striped jumpers take over the seesaw.

"There isn't an atmosphere of Eid or the joy that comes with it," he says. "As you can see, children are playing on the rubble and rocks. I'm entertaining them."

Earlier in the week, boys with bright plastic guns staged a mock battle across the rubble of Jabalia camp, re-enacting those fought across the same territory over recent months between Hamas fighters and invading Israeli forces.

"Some of these children's fathers have been martyred. Their mothers have been martyred," said Abdulrahman Abu Karsh, an activist organizing children's entertainment in Rafah in the south of Gaza. "There's sadness everywhere."


Sudan Paris Conference Takes Place Monday in Absence of Conflict Parties

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes the President of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, during the Paris conference, May 17, 2021 (AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes the President of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, during the Paris conference, May 17, 2021 (AFP)
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Sudan Paris Conference Takes Place Monday in Absence of Conflict Parties

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes the President of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, during the Paris conference, May 17, 2021 (AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes the President of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, during the Paris conference, May 17, 2021 (AFP)

Paris is finalizing a double event slated for Monday, April 15, focusing on the Sudanese situation from both political and humanitarian angles. Organized in collaboration with Germany and the European Union, the conference proceeds in the absence of official Sudanese representation.

On the political front, a ministerial-level meeting will convene on Monday morning at the historic headquarters of the French Foreign Ministry, jointly chaired by France, Germany, and the European Union. The stated objective, as per a Foreign Ministry statement, is “to support regional and international peace initiatives” aimed at putting an end to the war raging in Sudan.

The meeting will be followed by a humanitarian conference, which will be headed by French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné and his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock, the European Union’s foreign policy official Josep Borrell, and the EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčić, in the presence of “African and European authorities and officials from international organizations and civil society.”

The French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the conference aims to achieve three main goals: securing commitment to finance the international response to the humanitarian needs of Sudan, ensuring full, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all parts of the country, and preventing instability in the international system from overshadowing crises affecting the African continent, whether in Sudan, where about 8 million people were displaced, or in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In short, providing the necessary funds to respond to the dramatic humanitarian situation in Sudan and neighboring countries, and calling on the parties to the conflict “to put an end to the ongoing fighting and ensure safe access to humanitarian aid,” will constitute the two primary pillars of the conference.

The upcoming conference differs from the international summit organized by Paris in May 2021, under the slogan “Supporting the Democratic Transition” in Sudan, in which the country was represented by the Prime Minister of the Transitional Government, Abdullah Hamdok, and the Chairman of the Sovereignty Council, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.

Despite the international, economic, and financial support provided by the aforementioned summit for the democratic transition process, Sudan missed the opportunity due to the outbreak of war a year ago between the army and the Rapid Support Forces.


Sudan’s War Began a Year Ago. Children Are among Its Most Fragile Survivors

Children walk at the school housing displaced Sudanese who fled violence in war-torn Sudan, near the eastern city of Gedaref, on March 10, 2024. (AFP)
Children walk at the school housing displaced Sudanese who fled violence in war-torn Sudan, near the eastern city of Gedaref, on March 10, 2024. (AFP)
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Sudan’s War Began a Year Ago. Children Are among Its Most Fragile Survivors

Children walk at the school housing displaced Sudanese who fled violence in war-torn Sudan, near the eastern city of Gedaref, on March 10, 2024. (AFP)
Children walk at the school housing displaced Sudanese who fled violence in war-torn Sudan, near the eastern city of Gedaref, on March 10, 2024. (AFP)

The war in Sudan began a year ago. Here in a remote camp for tens of thousands of people who have fled into neighboring Chad, the anniversary is marked by near starvation.

Assadig Abubaker Salih is a 42-year-old mother of six. The family survived the hot, dusty journey from their home to this sprawling camp of wind-whipped blue tents stretching in rows toward the horizon.

“We are in a very bad situation. We have suffered since we left our country. My husband died," she said. “There is nothing here. We need the essentials. We don’t even have sugar.”

Back home, Sudan's military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, is fighting the paramilitary group known as Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, for greater resources. Sudan is home to around 45 million people.

Close to 9 million people have fled their homes, according to the United Nations, and more than 1 million have left the country. Thousands have been killed in a conflict overshadowed by the ones in Gaza and Ukraine. The UN says it has asked for $2.7 billion in funding to respond to humanitarian needs but has received $155 million — or 6%.

“It has been everyday Sudanese who have — often at great personal risk —stepped up to support each other,” Eatizaz Yousif, country director with the International Rescue Committee, said in a joint statement by aid groups urging the world to give more.

The UN has warned of an impending generational catastrophe. An estimated 3 million Sudanese children are malnourished. About 19 million children are out of school. A quarter of Sudan's hospitals are no longer functioning.

Aid organizations say women and children are bearing the worst of the conflict.

Even here, across the border, resources are stretched thin after more than 570,000 Sudanese arrived over the past year. Aid workers warn they are set to run out of some supplies within weeks. Shortages of water and ways to keep clean mean a growing risk of disease.

A growing number of children are arriving at the pediatric unit run by the Doctors Without Borders charity with pulmonary complications, a result of the harsh environment. The organization has also documented rising cases of hepatitis E, which can be deadly for pregnant women.

"Many, many of our babies are severely malnourished,” said Cordula Haffner, the Doctors Without Borders hospital coordinator at the camp. “The reason is hygiene, not enough food, not enough water. This is a crisis that will continue. We will see even more children like this.”

More than 16,000 children younger than 5 arriving in Chad from Sudan have had severe acute malnutrition, according to the UN — a stage where the effects of hunger are clearly visible.

Many people in this camp fled some of the conflict’s worst fighting in Sudan’s vast western region of Darfur. But the most desperate are trapped behind the front lines.

“We are seeing a catastrophe unfolding in North Darfur, where our teams have estimated that 13 children are dying each day of malnutrition and related health conditions at a camp for displaced people,” Avril Benoît, executive director of Doctors Without Borders in the US, said in a statement. She urged Sudanese authorities to stop blocking aid.

Some Sudanese manage to get help in time. One mother of six, Rachid Yaya Mohammed, said she came to the hospital at this camp in Chad because she is six months pregnant.

Two of her smallest children — twins — slept beside her.

Conditions are expected to worsen in the coming lean season between harvests, when food reserves are depleted and rains drive up rates of malaria.

Sudan plunged into chaos a year ago when clashes erupted in the capital, Khartoum, and spread.


Sudan on April 11: Bashir Falls, Legacy Endures

Sudanese from other provinces arrive in Khartoum by train to join the popular celebrations following the fall of the Bashir regime (EPA)
Sudanese from other provinces arrive in Khartoum by train to join the popular celebrations following the fall of the Bashir regime (EPA)
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Sudan on April 11: Bashir Falls, Legacy Endures

Sudanese from other provinces arrive in Khartoum by train to join the popular celebrations following the fall of the Bashir regime (EPA)
Sudanese from other provinces arrive in Khartoum by train to join the popular celebrations following the fall of the Bashir regime (EPA)

In the early hours of April 11, 2019, Sudanese woke up to rumors that the army was siding with protesters demanding the ousting of President Omar al-Bashir.

This led to Bashir’s removal, ending his Islamist-backed regime, which had ruled for three decades. Soon, millions gathered at protest sites across the country, hoping for real change.

Behind the scenes, reports suggested that Bashir was deceived by his own security chief, who warned him about crushing the protests but then turned against him.

When Bashir woke up, he found his guards replaced and was told by a senior officer that his own security committee had decided to remove him, as he had lost control of the country.

A high-ranking military leader, second-in-command of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), told Asharq Al-Awsat in an interview on March 4, 2021, that due to the escalating revolution, military leaders decided to oust Bashir.

They tasked the then head of intelligence, Salah Abdallah (Gosh), to deliver the message. Initially reluctant, Gosh eventually complied, fearing imprisonment.

Around noon, jubilant protesters realized that Bashir’s regime had collapsed. Tears of joy flowed as they celebrated what they saw as a triumph.

However, their joy was short-lived as Bashir’s deputy, Awad Ibn Auf, appeared on state TV announcing the regime’s removal and the suspension of the constitution.

In a brief address, Ibn Auf declared a two-year transitional period under military control, imposed a three-month state of emergency, enforced a curfew, shut down airspace and borders, and formed a Transitional Military Council dominated by Islamist officers.

Rebel leaders outside the army headquarters immediately rejected Ibn Auf’s moves, seeing them as an attempt to stifle their revolution and revive the Islamist regime.

They chanted “fall again,” seeing Bashir's ousting as the first blow and Ibn Auf’s removal as the second.

Despite being appointed head of the Transitional Military Council, Ibn Auf resigned the next day due to lack of support from the rebels and the revolution’s leaders. His rule became one of Sudan’s shortest, second only to Hashim al-Atta, who ruled for just three days.

Media reports say Ibn Auf called RSF Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) and told him he was stepping down as president, as long as he wasn’t replaced by the well-known Islamist officer Kamal Abdel Maarouf.

Instead, he suggested General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who was serving as the army’s Inspector General. So, Burhan, relatively unknown, became the head of the Transitional Military Council and the state.

He chose Hemedti as his deputy. Burhan said he convinced Hemedti to join him despite Hemedti’s earlier refusal to take on a leadership role.

Bashir’s removal came as a surprise, but reports circulating two months earlier suggested that leaders within the ruling party and the political arm had secret plans to oust him.

These plans were said to be carried out by the “Security Committee,” which included Islamist officers in the army and intelligence, along with the leader of the RSF.

At the time, Reuters reported that Gosh, the head of the intelligence agency, visited political prisoners, including party leaders, asking for their support in a plan for a new political system and finding a graceful exit for Bashir, with the help of a regional state.

Gosh then announced that Bashir would step down from the presidency of the National Congress Party and would not seek re-election in 2020. However, Bashir later downplayed Gosh’s statements in a televised speech.

The National Congress Party and the Islamic Movement planned to remove Bashir while still holding power through the Security Committee. Gosh was quoted as saying that “Bashir is finished.” However, the protesters’ demands for civilian rule disrupted the Islamists’ plans.

This led to the gradual removal of some top figures from the Security Committee. The military had to negotiate with civilian protest leaders to share power, resulting in a power-sharing agreement (5+5).

Relations between civilian and military factions became strained after an attempted coup by Islamist officers on September 21, 2021. Civilians accused the military of involvement, but military leaders denied it, dismissing the accusation as hypocritical.

Abdalla Hamdok, then Deputy Chairman of the Sovereignty Council, refused to negotiate with civilians, worsening the divide between the two groups.

Amid mounting tensions, Islamist groups saw an opportunity to regain influence after lying low for months. They organized protests, initially ignored by the military but possibly supported by security forces.

These protests brought the Islamists back into the spotlight. However, divisions emerged within the alliance supporting civilian rule after the Juba Peace Agreement, leading to a split between those backing the government and those siding with the military.

The latter staged a protest demanding the removal of the civilian government.

On October 25, 2021, military leaders led a coup, seizing power and arresting Prime Minister Hamdok and others. They declared a state of emergency, dissolved the government, and faced resistance met with force, resulting in civilian deaths.

Despite the ousting of Bashir’s regime five years ago, its influence persists, with Islamists still holding sway and suspected of instigating the coup and fueling the war that erupted in April 2023. While Bashir may have fallen, his legacy remains.


Did Israel Eliminate Hamas After Six Months of War?

Children stand in the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 9, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Children stand in the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 9, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
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Did Israel Eliminate Hamas After Six Months of War?

Children stand in the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 9, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Children stand in the rubble of a collapsed building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 9, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

After six months of bloody fighting in the Gaza Strip, it remains unclear if Israel has achieved its goal of wiping out Hamas and its control of the Palestinian enclave.

As the conflict continues and Israel withdraws from some parts of Gaza, the crucial question arises: Will Hamas be ousted? Can Israel step in to fill the void?

Before the pullback, Israel promised a new government, but doubts grew when Hamas quickly regained power in certain areas.

Residents in Gaza who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat doubt Hamas will go unless it willingly hands over control to the Palestinian Authority, which won’t be easy.

The Palestinian group has managed to keep its administrative structure intact during the ongoing conflict.

It continues to oversee security, police, ministries, and institutions, even paying partial salaries to its employees.

Despite Israeli attacks on its economic assets, Hamas has distributed financial advances to its members.

According to sources within the Hamas government, the movement’s financial arm has worked to ensure salaries for government employees and operatives, despite Israeli strikes on money storage sites.

Employees, like A.S. from the Hamas police force, receive constant instructions to maintain security. The internal security apparatus has arrested collaborators with Israeli forces.

A.S. and their colleagues have also received limited financial disbursements since the onset of the conflict.

“We receive semi-daily instructions focused on maintaining security, monitoring markets and commodity prices, and ensuring protection for aid entering for distribution to citizens,” A.S. told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Hamas activists, operating individually, are gradually regaining control in Gaza, challenging Israel’s objectives. However, Israel finds it difficult to target Hamas’ entire security apparatus.

Although the group has suffered significant losses, including headquarters and personnel, it remains standing. Israel claims to have killed many Hamas members but faces skepticism from Palestinians.

Ridwan Maqbul, a political science graduate from Al-Azhar University in Gaza, believes Hamas’ leadership still maintains control and scoffs at the idea of a tribal alternative government.


Are Iranian Drones Helping the Army Gain Ground in Sudan War?

A photo released by the official website of the Iranian Army on April 20, 2023, of Iran-made drones.Source: Iranian Army/AP Photo
A photo released by the official website of the Iranian Army on April 20, 2023, of Iran-made drones.Source: Iranian Army/AP Photo
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Are Iranian Drones Helping the Army Gain Ground in Sudan War?

A photo released by the official website of the Iranian Army on April 20, 2023, of Iran-made drones.Source: Iranian Army/AP Photo
A photo released by the official website of the Iranian Army on April 20, 2023, of Iran-made drones.Source: Iranian Army/AP Photo

A year into Sudan's civil war, Iranian-made armed drones have helped the army turn the tide of the conflict, halting the progress of the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Force and regaining territory around the capital, a senior army source told Reuters.

Six Iranian sources, regional officials and diplomats - who, like the army source, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information - also told Reuters the military had acquired Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the past few months.

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) used some older UAVs in the first months of the war alongside artillery batteries and fighter jets, but had little success in rooting out RSF fighters embedded in heavily populated neighborhoods in Khartoum and other cities, more than a dozen Khartoum residents said.

In January, nine months after fighting erupted, much more effective drones began operating from the army's Wadi Sayidna base to the north of Khartoum, according to five eyewitnesses living in the area.

The residents said the drones appeared to monitor RSF movements, target their positions, and pinpoint artillery strikes in Omdurman, one of three cities on the banks of the Nile that comprise the capital Khartoum.

"In recent weeks, the army has begun to use precise drones in military operations, which forced the RSF to flee from many areas and allowed the army to deploy forces on the ground," said Mohamed Othman, a 59-year-old resident of Omdurman's Al-Thawra district.

The extent and manner of the army's deployment of Iranian UAVs in Omdurman and other areas has not been previously reported. Bloomberg and Sudanese media have reported the presence of Iranian drones in the country.

The senior Sudanese army source denied that the Iranian-made drones came directly from Iran, and declined to say how they were procured or how many the army had received.

The source that while diplomatic cooperation between Sudan and Iran had been restored last year, official military cooperation was still pending.

Asked about Iranian drones, Sudan's acting foreign minister Ali Sadeq, who visited Iran last year and is aligned with the army, told Reuters: "Sudan did not obtain any weapons from Iran."

The army's media department and Iran's foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment.

A regional source close to Iran's clerical rulers said Iranian Mohajer and Ababil drones had been transported to Sudan several times since late last year by Iran's Qeshm Fars Air. Mohajer and Ababil drones are made by companies operating under Iran's Ministry of Defense, which did not immediately reply to a request for comment.


Generation War: Children in Sudan Today

A refugee mother from Darfur in Sudan holds her son during his medical exam, at the hospital set up by the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the refugee camp of Metche, eastern Chad, 05 April 2024. EPA/STRINGER
A refugee mother from Darfur in Sudan holds her son during his medical exam, at the hospital set up by the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the refugee camp of Metche, eastern Chad, 05 April 2024. EPA/STRINGER
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Generation War: Children in Sudan Today

A refugee mother from Darfur in Sudan holds her son during his medical exam, at the hospital set up by the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the refugee camp of Metche, eastern Chad, 05 April 2024. EPA/STRINGER
A refugee mother from Darfur in Sudan holds her son during his medical exam, at the hospital set up by the NGO Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the refugee camp of Metche, eastern Chad, 05 April 2024. EPA/STRINGER

Amna Ishaq can no longer feed her children "more than once a day and sometimes not at all" after nearly a year of devastating war in Sudan.
"We are all sick, along with our children. We have nothing to eat and the water we find is polluted," Ishaq told AFP at a camp for the displaced in Darfur.
The vast western region is no stranger to war, suffering devastation in a deadly conflict that began in 2003 and which also sparked a hunger crisis.
With war returning to Sudan last April, the United Nations has warned that "an entire generation could be destroyed".
The world body says millions of displaced children are starving, have been forced into marriage or become child soldiers and threatened with death.
The fighting broke out on April 15, 2023 between Abdel Fattah al-Burhan's army and Mohammed Hamdan Daglo's Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Looting, fighting, air strikes and roads cut by warring factions have isolated every region of Sudan, a northeast African country more than three times the size of France.
The UN says it has been able to reach only 10 percent of Sudan's 48 million people, with the country on the brink of famine.
At Otach, a displacement camp set up two decades ago in South Darfur where Ishaq has taken refuge with her family, rations of maize porridge no longer arrive.
About "222,000 children could die of starvation within a few weeks or months" and "more than 700,000 this year", according to the UN.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that at least one child dies every two hours at North Darfur's Zamzam displacement camp alone.
And at Kalma camp in South Darfur, the aid group Alight said that "more than two children are dying every 12 hours".
Children have been sold
Medical journal The Lancet has reported that the small Al-Buluk pediatric hospital in the capital Khartoum admits "about 25 children for severe acute malnutrition. Each week, two or three of them die."
Overall, nearly three million children are suffering from malnutrition and 19 million are no longer in school, according to Save the Children, endangering the future of a nation where 42 percent of the population is under 14 years old.
Even before this war, nearly half of Sudan's children had severely reduced growth and 70 percent were unable to read and understand a simple sentence, the charity says.
Adam Regal, spokesman for independent Sudanese aid group General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced Persons in Darfur, said he has seen dozens of children die.
He blamed "the stubbornness" of the warring parties, telling AFP that "food and humanitarian aid no longer arrive" because of a lack of access.
A Khartoum factory that produced nutritional supplements for children has been destroyed by bombing and vaccine factories for newborns have been looted.
Cholera, measles and malaria prevail in eastern parts of the country.
Adding to the health crisis are the horrors of war.
More and more Sudanese organizations are warning that to feed their children parents are resorting to "selling" some of them.
One local charity reported that a father sold his 15-year-old daughter for a few bags of grain at a market.
The UN has also recorded child marriages in response to "family separations" -- mothers or fathers who have lost their spouses or children while fleeing violence in panic -- or because of "gender-based and sexual violence including rape and unwanted pregnancies".
Rape and child soldiers
The UN said young girls and women have been the victims of "abductions, forced marriages, and sexual violence related to the conflict in Darfur and in the state of Al-Jazira" south of Khartoum, where many displaced people are.
The dangers facing boys are different: both the army and the paramilitaries, but also tribal and ethnic militias, "recruit and use children in Darfur, Kordofan, Khartoum, and in the east of the country", the experts said.
Some parties even force "children from a neighboring country to actively participate in hostilities", they added.
Since the early days of the war, videos uploaded by soldiers and paramilitaries regularly show teenagers on military pickup trucks or with automatic rifles in hand.
It's the "catastrophe of a generation", UN officials said.


Iraq 21 Years after Saddam’s Overthrow

A store owner and his son watch Saddam Hussein deliver a televised speech on January 17, 1997. (Reuters file photo)
A store owner and his son watch Saddam Hussein deliver a televised speech on January 17, 1997. (Reuters file photo)
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Iraq 21 Years after Saddam’s Overthrow

A store owner and his son watch Saddam Hussein deliver a televised speech on January 17, 1997. (Reuters file photo)
A store owner and his son watch Saddam Hussein deliver a televised speech on January 17, 1997. (Reuters file photo)

Twenty-one years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the formation of eight governments and staging of six parliamentary elections, current and former officials believe that the “experiment of the new Iraq has yet to succeed.”

On this day in 2003, the United States declared the success of Operation Iraqi Freedom that ousted the regime. The lasting image from that period was the toppling of Saddam’s large statue in central Baghdad.

Washington invaded Iraq in 2003 under the allegation that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction and because its regime posed a global security threat. No evidence that Iraq possessed such weapons was ever found.

Iraq does not officially celebrate the overthrow of the regime even though members of the former transitional council had called for naming it a national holiday. Political and popular interest in the anniversary has waned drastically over the years.

Several officials told Asharq Al-Awsat that the democratic experience in Iraq has been impeded by political rivalries and regional meddling.

Uprooting Iraq

Former Electricity Minister Karim Wahid told Asharq Al-Awsat that Washington wanted to use its invasion to “uproot Iraq from the Arab national security defense system and destabilize the regional balance by establishing a new weak regime.”

Wahid, who served in Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's government, said the imbalance in Iraq began when officials took political decisions that were motivated by revenge.

“Such an approach was never going to succeed after decades of totalitarian rule,” he remarked.

In the past two decades, Iraq had to contend with security and political crises that started with sectarian violence in 2005, years of terrorism fueled by al-Qaeda and then ISIS, the spread of rampant corruption, rising regional meddling in its affairs and the emergence of militias that enjoy wide political influence in the parliament and government.

In March 2023, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said his government was working on combating corruption that has taken root in the majority of state institutions, leading Iraq to be ranked 157 out 180 most corrupt countries in the world.

MP Hussein Arab, a second generation politician, described the post-invasion phase as an occupation whose price is still being paid to this day.

It will take more time for democracy to be consolidated in the country, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The parties that adhere to political Islam have tarnished democracy and turned it into a system of extortion and illicit enrichment,” he went on to say.

He predicted that the first generation of politicians who emerged after Saddam’s ouster would themselves be voted out of the scene during the next parliamentary elections.

Results of the change

Head of the Kulwatha Center Bassel Hussein said the outcome of the regime change are “modest” and have not favored the Americans and others.

It did, however, pave the way for regional meddling in Iraq, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The region has become more turbulent and it is becoming worse due to Iran’s growing expansion in Iraq,” he noted.

“Since the invasion, Iraq has become an affiliate of Iran and a pawn in its conflict with the West and Arab surrounding,” he remarked.

On the future of democracy in Iraq, Hussein said the political system “teeters between various contradictory political, legal and social models. Elections have also produced a form of authoritarian competition that has nothing to do with the concept of democracy as understood in mature countries.”

Important accomplishment

In spite of this, Iraq’s most important accomplishment since 2003 has been ending the totalitarian state and one-party rule, said researcher and academic Akeel Abbas.

Aside from this, “the new regime has consistently failed because the ruling political-partisan system has sought its own interests at the expense of society,” he added.

The system has formed the state according to a “wrong and short-sighted vision”, he explained.

Head of the Center for Political Thinking in Iraq Ihssan Shmary said the political class that came to power post-Saddam should have separated powers and achieved social justice.

“Over the years, the political system has shifted from consensual democracy to one led by influential leaders, thereby destroying the essence of the change,” he remarked.

This has given way for more demands for system reforms and constitutional amendments, he noted.

The negatives, however, don’t deny the fact that Iraq gained after Saddam’s ouster the concept of the peaceful transition of power, which should be seen as a sign of recovery in the country, he stressed.


Killing of Party Official Fuels Sectarian, Political Tensions in Lebanon

 Supporters of the Lebanese Forces Party block a main highway in protest over the fate of a local official, who security forces later said was killed by a group of Syrians in an attempted carjacking, in Jbeil, Lebanon April 8, 2024. (Reuters)
Supporters of the Lebanese Forces Party block a main highway in protest over the fate of a local official, who security forces later said was killed by a group of Syrians in an attempted carjacking, in Jbeil, Lebanon April 8, 2024. (Reuters)
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Killing of Party Official Fuels Sectarian, Political Tensions in Lebanon

 Supporters of the Lebanese Forces Party block a main highway in protest over the fate of a local official, who security forces later said was killed by a group of Syrians in an attempted carjacking, in Jbeil, Lebanon April 8, 2024. (Reuters)
Supporters of the Lebanese Forces Party block a main highway in protest over the fate of a local official, who security forces later said was killed by a group of Syrians in an attempted carjacking, in Jbeil, Lebanon April 8, 2024. (Reuters)

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

Government and religious officials have rushed to quell tensions after the killing of Pascal Sleiman prompted fears of renewed street brawls between rival parties and triggered beatings of Syrians. Sleiman headed the anti-Hezbollah Lebanese Forces Party in a predominantly Christian coastal area.

Lebanon's army said on Monday a group of Syrians tried to steal Sleiman's car the previous evening but ultimately killed him and took his body to neighboring Syria. It said security forces had arrested most of those responsible.

But in a written statement to Reuters on Tuesday, the Lebanese Forces rejected the account, saying Sleiman was attacked because of the party's political views.

"The official narrative that this was a carjacking remains incoherent, and we consider Pascal Suleiman's killing to be a political assassination because of his political role. Unless proven otherwise, we tend to consider this to be a direct assault against the LF," the party said.

The Lebanese Forces have not directly fingered their main rival - Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah - but party officials pointed to a string of killings of anti-Hezbollah figures in the last two decades as similar cases.

Criticism of Hezbollah from Lebanon's Christian community has spiked in recent weeks, particularly after fighters from the group were accused of trying to fire rockets at neighboring Israel from a Christian village along Lebanon's southern border.

It reflects swelling anger among Hezbollah's critics over the group's controversial arsenal, which outguns the army.

"In this delicate and tense political, security and social circumstance, we call for calm and restraint," said Lebanon's top Christian cleric, Patriarch Beshara al-Rai. He has criticized Hezbollah indirectly in the past, saying the six-month-old war with Israel had been "imposed" on Christians.

'Collective punishment'

In a televised address on Monday, Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah said Sleiman's killing "had nothing to do with politics, and has nothing to do with Hezbollah."

"Let us not compare the crime against Pascal Sleiman to others," Lebanon's caretaker interior minister Bassam Mawlawi told reporters on Tuesday. "This country cannot tolerate more problems than it is already facing, nor can it tolerate discord."

Lebanese Forces supporters shut down main roads in northern Lebanon on Monday, and school was cancelled in Beirut on Tuesday amid fears of another round of violence between the Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah. In 2021, seven Shiites were shot dead in an attack on a protest called by Hezbollah, which blamed supporters of the Lebanese Forces for the killings.

At the weekend Lebanon marks the anniversary of the start of its civil war on April 13, 1975, which erupted after gunmen ambushed a bus carrying Palestinians in southern Beirut. The conflict ground on until 1990.

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

Within hours of the Lebanese army's Monday statement accusing a group of Syrians, angry crowds gathered in northern Lebanon near Sleiman's hometown and in Beirut.

Some men smashed cars with Syrian license plates, raided homes where Syrians were thought to be living or beat motorcyclists thought to be Syrians, according to witnesses and footage shared on social media.

Mohamad Hasan, of the Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR), a rights organization, said the scenes were "a dangerous and unfortunate example of the principle of collective punishment".

The Lebanese Forces told Reuters it condemned the violence against Syrians and did not want to see refugees being attacked.

"This is a diversion from the actual issue," it said.


Lebanese Mull Different Scenarios for Iran’s Response to Syria Consulate Attack, Fear Expanded War

Mourners are seen at the funeral of Ali Ahmed Hussein, commander of Hezbollah’s “Radwan” forces, in Beirut. (AP)
Mourners are seen at the funeral of Ali Ahmed Hussein, commander of Hezbollah’s “Radwan” forces, in Beirut. (AP)
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Lebanese Mull Different Scenarios for Iran’s Response to Syria Consulate Attack, Fear Expanded War

Mourners are seen at the funeral of Ali Ahmed Hussein, commander of Hezbollah’s “Radwan” forces, in Beirut. (AP)
Mourners are seen at the funeral of Ali Ahmed Hussein, commander of Hezbollah’s “Radwan” forces, in Beirut. (AP)

Fear mounted in Lebanon over Tehran’s expected response to Israel’s targeting of the Iranian consulate headquarters in Damascus, and the possible Israeli reaction, amid concerns that the escalation would lead to the outbreak of an expanded war in the region, with Lebanon as its main arena.

The Lebanese are divided between those who expect a harsh response, most of whom are Hezbollah supporters, and those who believe that there will be a limited and more likely “symbolic” reaction, pointing to an Iranian-American understanding in this regard to avoid expanding the war in the region.

A third category believes that there will be no revenge, and that the slogan “at the right place and time” will continue to be applied.

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah confirmed in his latest televised address that the “Iranian response will inevitably happen,” without indicating whether Hezbollah will carry it out.

However, Lebanese Forces sources said the possibility of Iran entrusting Hezbollah with the attack would be “a scandal and a defeat because Iran itself was targeted in Damascus.”

“The Iranian consulate is Iranian territory, and therefore if Tehran does not respond directly to the attack, this means a clear acknowledgment that it is too powerless to respond,” the LF sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Head of the Middle East Center for Strategic Studies retired Brigadier General Dr. Hisham Jaber said: “The Iranian reaction is inevitable, but the Iranians are still studying how to respond” in a way that does not provoke a direct confrontation with the United States.

“The response will be direct from Tehran after it announced maximum mobilization,” Jaber noted, suggesting that the target could be the Israeli consulate in Kurdistan, which is within range of Iranian fire and missiles, or at sea, by striking an Israeli ship.

He added: “As for attacking American interests in the region, this is completely off the table, and Washington has been informed of that.”