Al-Hol Administrator to Asharq Al-Awsat: Dismantling the Most Dangerous Camp in the World Needs Years

Asharq Al-Awsat Tours Al-Baghouz, the Final ISIS Stronghold Before Its Fall in Eastern Syria

Jinan Hanan, Co-Chair of the Al-Hol Camp administration (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Jinan Hanan, Co-Chair of the Al-Hol Camp administration (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Al-Hol Administrator to Asharq Al-Awsat: Dismantling the Most Dangerous Camp in the World Needs Years

Jinan Hanan, Co-Chair of the Al-Hol Camp administration (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Jinan Hanan, Co-Chair of the Al-Hol Camp administration (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Located near the Syrian-Iraqi border and east of Syria’s Al-Hasakah governorate, Al-Hol is the largest camp for displaced people who fled after Kurdish-led forces backed by a US-led coalition dislodged ISIS fighters from their last scrap of territory in Syria in 2019.

Al-Hol is overpopulated with thousands of residents, including relatives of suspected terrorists currently held in prisons run by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), displaced Syrians, and Iraqi refugees.

This camp, which also hosts foreigners from 54 Arab and Western nationals, has turned into a hotbed for crime.

Al-Hol has witnessed hundreds of slayings and has become notorious for high levels of violence and the spread of extremism among its residents.

“Taking the camp apart needs years,” Jinan Hanan, Co-Chair of Al-Hol’s administration, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

According to Hanan, around 51,500 residents are currently living at Al-Hol. They include approximately 26,000 Iraqi refugees and 18,000 displaced Syrians.

Hanan also revealed that over 7,700 residents currently occupy the section for foreign females at Al-Hol.

Confirming that Al-Hol has become the “most dangerous camp in the world,” Hanan said that over 150 killings had occurred there over four years.

“Last year alone, 36 murders took place, apart from torture, assault, escape, and constant threats.”

Hanan added that maintaining security at Al-Hol is a thorny and complex issue due to the camp’s extensive size spanning over three square kilometers.

“The role of security forces is limited to protecting and monitoring the entrances and exits of the camp and its main gates,” said Hanan, adding that they also “conduct mobile patrols inside Al-Hol.”

The administrator, however, noted that the camp does not have fixed security centers.

Hanan also said that Al-Hol’s administration is working to secure the camp’s residents with humble means.

“We do not have advanced modern equipment, and we do not have the capabilities to increase the number of security personnel,” she said.

“Despite the security campaigns, the camp continues to witness security incidents and frequent breaches,” she added.

Hanan revealed that there is high-level coordination between the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) and the Iraqi government to send back refugees in Syrian camps under the supervision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

She also shed light on many Western and Arab governments not yet taking the initiative to inquire about the fate of their nationals and citizens at Al-Hol.

“There are European and Western countries that are dodging the return of all their citizens residing in the camp,” said Hanan.

Hanan emphasized that getting rid of Al-Hol requires years, strict international decisions, and vigorous efforts to convince the governments of countries with nationals living in the camp of needing to take them back.

“In my opinion, we need five or six years to dismantle the Al-Hol camp completely,” she said.



Disappointing Weather Takes its Toll on Gaza Wheat Crop 

A Palestinian man grinds wheat during harvest season on a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip May 24, 2023. (Reuters)
A Palestinian man grinds wheat during harvest season on a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip May 24, 2023. (Reuters)
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Disappointing Weather Takes its Toll on Gaza Wheat Crop 

A Palestinian man grinds wheat during harvest season on a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip May 24, 2023. (Reuters)
A Palestinian man grinds wheat during harvest season on a farm in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip May 24, 2023. (Reuters)

Shifting weather patterns and disappointing rains in Gaza mean Palestinian farmer Itaf Qudeih has managed to harvest only a quarter of the wheat she once grew on her land.

"The wheat was taller and the grain was bigger, it is now very weak. The late winter influenced the crop and the quantity of the produce," said Qudeih, 60, as she joined fellow workers for the harvest in her fields in southern Gaza.

"This land used to produce a ton of grain, it is now making a quarter of a ton because of weaker rainfall," she added.

Mohammad Odah, of the Palestinian Agriculture Ministry, said the annual wheat harvest has fallen by 1,000 tons from last year because of the late winter season and unreliable rains. Last year production was 5,000 tons.

Usually, the local wheat harvest accounts for 2% of consumption in the enclave, whose 2.3 million people regard traditional flat breads as an indispensable part of their diet. The rest is imported.


Planet-Friendly Farming Takes Root in Drought-Hit Tunisia

This picture taken on April 27, 2023, shows an agricultural field in Cap Negro in northern Tunisia. (AFP)
This picture taken on April 27, 2023, shows an agricultural field in Cap Negro in northern Tunisia. (AFP)
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Planet-Friendly Farming Takes Root in Drought-Hit Tunisia

This picture taken on April 27, 2023, shows an agricultural field in Cap Negro in northern Tunisia. (AFP)
This picture taken on April 27, 2023, shows an agricultural field in Cap Negro in northern Tunisia. (AFP)

Saber Zouani lost his job as a waiter when the Covid pandemic ravaged the Tunisian tourism sector, so he decided to try something new and started a permaculture farm.

Now he grows all the food he needs and has become a pioneer of the style of ecological agriculture that is gaining fans worldwide, including in his North African country.

Many hope it will help Tunisia weather the impacts of climate change and wean it off its reliance on global supply chains, including grain and fertilizer imports from war-torn Ukraine and Russia.

In his western home town of Cap Negro, Zouani, 37, proudly showed off his three-hectare (seven-acre) farm, set up to mimic natural ecosystems in line with ideas popularized in the 1970s by Australian ecologists.

Permaculture, as an alternative to industrial agriculture, aims to work in harmony with the environment, keep soil structures intact, and do without artificial inputs such as chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

"No, these are not weeds," said Zouani, a biotechnology graduate, pointing to nettles and dandelions growing wild all around his rows of onions, peppers and radishes.

When he harvests his vegetables, he said, he puts the excess green matter back onto the soil to slow evaporation -- hoping to keep the ground as moist as a forest floor covered with fallen leaves.

'Create living soil'

Such methods are especially useful in Tunisia where an unprecedented drought has parched the countryside and left water reservoirs at dangerously low levels this spring.

At his farm, Zouani captures precious rainwater in a pond and only sparingly waters his plants, which are all grown from his own seeds.

Zouani also keeps cows, sheep, goats and chickens and composts their droppings to create soil enriched with the nitrogen-rich natural fertilizer.

"We need to create living soil, attract earthworms, fungi and all the nutrients for our plants and trees," said Zouani.

Permaculture, he said, draws on farming methods and wisdoms of centuries past -- "returning to our roots, to the traditional methods used by our grandparents".

Zouani said he earns around 300 dinars ($100) a month from selling farm produce, with enough left over to make him, his brother and their elderly parents self-sufficient.

In two or three years, he hopes to make "a decent income" and turn his farm, named "Om Hnia" in honor of his late grandmother, into an eatery and eventually a rural eco-lodge.

Zouani started off more than two years ago with the help of the Tunisian Association of Permaculture, which gave him initial training and then financial support for basic equipment.

The group's "Plant Your Farm" project aims to create 50 micro-farms over five years, of which around 30 are already up and running, said its president Rim Mathlouthi.

'Bring back biodiversity'

The goal, Mathlouthi said, is to "demonstrate to the authorities and other farmers that permaculture is a profitable and efficient agricultural system which brings back biodiversity when the soil is depleted from ploughing and chemical inputs".

She said the initiative, with funding from Switzerland and others, even covers Tunisia's sun-baked arid regions and aims to entice jobless young people to cultivate abandoned family land.

It also hopes to help change a model "where the Tunisian farmer loses money because he is constantly spending, for a very small yield, on seeds, fertilizers and pesticides", said Mathlouthi.

Permaculture also aims to help Tunisia adapt to the searing drought that has badly impacted a farm sector centered on wheat, barley and other water-intensive cereals.

"Crises such as water stress or the Ukraine war are opportunities to promote solutions such as agro-ecology and permaculture," said Mathlouthi.

To help Tunisia's new eco-farmers sell their organic produce and spread the word on permaculture, the association has promoted farmers' markets and created a "citizen food" label.

Families flocked to a recent workshop at a school in the northern city of Bizerte, where they learnt green farming techniques and sampled their tasty produce.

"These are healthy products," enthused father-of-three Salem Laghouati, 44. "It's important to know what you're eating."

Maissa Haddad, a 49-year-old schoolteacher, said she was proud to be "educating children on permaculture" and teaching them that it is "beneficial for our planet and our lifestyle".


Türkiye Election Runoff 2023: What You Need to Know

Election representatives prepare ballots with the presidential candidates at a polling station A woman votes at a polling station in Istanbul, Türkiye, Sunday, May 28, 2023. (AP)
Election representatives prepare ballots with the presidential candidates at a polling station A woman votes at a polling station in Istanbul, Türkiye, Sunday, May 28, 2023. (AP)
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Türkiye Election Runoff 2023: What You Need to Know

Election representatives prepare ballots with the presidential candidates at a polling station A woman votes at a polling station in Istanbul, Türkiye, Sunday, May 28, 2023. (AP)
Election representatives prepare ballots with the presidential candidates at a polling station A woman votes at a polling station in Istanbul, Türkiye, Sunday, May 28, 2023. (AP)

Turks were voting on Sunday in a presidential election runoff between the incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu that will decide whether the president extends his rule into a third decade.

Here is a guide to the runoff, the two candidates and the key issues as well as details on how the May 14 parliamentary election unfolded:

Presidential vote

Turks will be electing a president for a five-year term.

In the first round of voting on May 14, Erdogan got 49.5% support, falling just short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff in a vote seen as a referendum on his autocratic rule.

Kilicdaroglu, the candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, received 44.9% support. Nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan came third with 5.2% support and was eliminated. The outcome confounded the expectations of pollsters who had put Kilicdaroglu ahead.

A referendum in 2017 narrowly approved Erdogan's move to broaden the powers of the presidency, making the president head of government and abolishing the post of prime minister.

As president, Erdogan sets policy on Türkiye’s economy, security, domestic and international affairs.

THE CANDIDATES:

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

More than 20 years after Erdogan and his AKP came to power, he hopes to extend his tenure as modern Türkiye’s longest serving ruler.

His strong performance on May 14, when he managed to mobilize conservative voters, defied predictions of his political demise.

Victory would entrench the rule of a leader who has transformed Türkiye, reshaping the secular state founded 100 years ago to fit his pious vision while consolidating power in his hands in what critics see as a march to autocracy.

Over the last week, Erdogan received the endorsement of hardline nationalist Sinan Ogan, boosting the incumbent and intensifying Kilicdaroglu's challenge in the runoff.

In the parliamentary vote held on May 14 support for Erdogan's AKP tumbled seven points from the 42.6% which it won in the 2018 elections, but with his alliance enjoying a parliamentary majority he has called on voters to support him in order to ensure political stability.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Kilicdaroglu is both the main opposition candidate and chairman of the CHP, which was established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - the founder of modern Türkiye.

He has offered voters an inclusive platform and promised a democratic reset, including a return to a parliamentary system of government and independence for a judiciary that critics say Erdogan has used to crack down on dissent.

However, his rhetoric since May 14 has taken a hawkish turn as he reaches out to nationalist voters in his bid to overtake Erdogan, vowing to send back millions refugees.

Türkiye’s pro-Kurdish parties on Thursday reaffirmed their support for Kilicdaroglu in the runoff without naming him, a day after expressing anger at a deal which he reached with the far right, anti-immigrant Victory Party (ZP).

ZP leader Umit Ozdag declared his party's support for Kilicdaroglu on Wednesday in a potential boost to the CHP leader, countering the impact of Ogan's support for Erdogan. The ZP received 2.2% of votes in the parliamentary election.

What is at stake?

The vote will decide not only who leads Türkiye, a NATO-member country of 85 million, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed amid a deep cost of living crisis, and the shape of its foreign policy.

Erdogan's critics say his government has muzzled dissent, eroded rights and brought the judicial system under its sway, a charge denied by officials.

Türkiye’s economy is also in focus. Economists say it was Erdogan's unorthodox policy of low interest rates despite surging prices that drove inflation to 85% last year, and the lira slumping to one tenth of its value against the dollar over the last decade.

Kilicdaroglu has pledged to return to more orthodox economic policy and to restore the independence of the Turkish central bank.

On foreign affairs, under Erdogan, Türkiye has flexed military power, forged closer ties with Russia, and seen relations with the European Union and United States become increasingly strained.

Türkiye and the United Nations also brokered a deal between Moscow and Kyiv for Ukrainian wheat exports and Erdogan announced on May 17 the latest two-month extension.

Polling

More than 64 million Turks are eligible to vote at nearly 192,000 polling stations, including more than 6 million who were first-time voters on May 14. There are 3.4 million voters overseas, who voted between May 20-24.

Polling stations in Türkiye opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) on Sunday and close at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT). The sale of alcohol is banned on election day.

Turnout in Turkish elections is generally high. On May 14, the overall turnout was 87.04% of eligible voters, with a level of 88.9% in Turkey and 49.4% abroad.

Results

Under election rules, news, forecasts and commentaries about the vote are banned until 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) and media are only free to report on election results from 9 p.m. (1800 GMT).

However, the High Election Board may allow media to report on results earlier and usually does. Results on Sunday evening are likely to emerge earlier than they did on May 14 given the relative simplicity of the ballot paper.


ISIS Wives in Syria’s Roj Camp Face Consequences for Husbands’ Actions

Roj Camp in Al-Malikiyah Countryside, Al-Hasakah, Northeastern Syria (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Roj Camp in Al-Malikiyah Countryside, Al-Hasakah, Northeastern Syria (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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ISIS Wives in Syria’s Roj Camp Face Consequences for Husbands’ Actions

Roj Camp in Al-Malikiyah Countryside, Al-Hasakah, Northeastern Syria (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Roj Camp in Al-Malikiyah Countryside, Al-Hasakah, Northeastern Syria (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Located in northeastern Syria, Camp Roj is home to families and relatives of individuals associated with the notorious terrorist organization ISIS. Within this encampment, women and mothers find solace amidst their daily routines, sheltered under tents embellished with the emblem of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Their future remains uncertain as they patiently await the resolution of their destinies. In this desolate setting, the passage of time has become inconsequential, as evening merges seamlessly with daylight.

At Camp Roj, inhabitants are grappling with a prolonged pause in their lives and carry the weight of their memories and endure the painful revisiting of bygone moments.

The narratives of their journeys to Syria exhibit a remarkable resemblance.

For ISIS wives, when their husbands committed to joining the ranks of the extremist organization, their families were compelled to accompany them, bracing themselves for the repercussions.

When we carefully examine the daily lives of these women and mothers at Camp Roj and compare them to their previous normal lives in their home countries, it becomes clear that everything is different.

Located in the outskirts of the town of Al-Malikiyah in the Al-Hasakah province, Camp Roj is home to approximately 600 families, totaling around 2,500 individuals.

Among those individuals are Iraqi refugees, displaced Syrians, as well as foreign families of former ISIS fighters hailing from Western and Arab nations.

Asharq Al-Awsat visited this heavily guarded camp and conducted exclusive interviews with a Moroccan, an Egyptian, an Uzbek, and an Iraqi woman.

Most of the women who participated in this investigation expressed their struggles in obtaining sufficient funds to meet their basic needs.

They also lamented the difficulty of accessing clean drinking water, as well as the lack of hygiene, medical care, counseling, education, and proper nutrition.

These women are living within the confines of closed walls and surveillance cameras.

Shuruq, a Moroccan woman hailing from the city of Tetouan, shared her story of spending eight years in several Syrian cities that were subjected to bombings and destruction.

Eventually, she found herself seeking refuge under a tent that offers no protection from the winter cold or the scorching heat of summer.

Today, she bears the responsibility of raising orphaned children after their father, who brought them to this volatile corner of the Middle East, was killed.

“I never decided the fate of my life. I lived the life of my family, then the life of my husband, and now I am a widow at this age... I live each day as written by destiny,” said Shuruq.

The 36-year-old widow recounted her escape from areas under the control of ISIS in mid-2017 following the death of her husband.

“My husband chose to join the organization, and after his death, we had no remaining ties to it. We fled towards areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and sought refuge in the camp,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

She pointed out that one of the main obstacles preventing women like her from returning to their home countries is the presence of children born in Syria with multiple nationalities.

“My children were born in Morocco, and in my case, there is no legal conflict due to having dual nationality, mixed marriage or giving birth to children in Syria. I don't understand why Morocco hesitates to repatriate us when I am a widow and a mother to orphans.”

“When my mental state deteriorates, day and night become indistinguishable, and the daily routine becomes a blur,” said Shuruq about her daily struggle.

“Sometimes I prepare breakfast for my children at 9 in the morning, and on other days, it's at 3 in the afternoon because time holds no value,” she revealed, adding that she is living in burden.


Children in Quake-Hit Syria Learn in Buses Turned Classrooms

Buses turned into traveling classrooms pull into at a displacement camp in Jindayris in the opposition-held northwestern Syrian province of Aleppo on May 23, 2023, following a devastating earthquake more than three months ago. (AFP)
Buses turned into traveling classrooms pull into at a displacement camp in Jindayris in the opposition-held northwestern Syrian province of Aleppo on May 23, 2023, following a devastating earthquake more than three months ago. (AFP)
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Children in Quake-Hit Syria Learn in Buses Turned Classrooms

Buses turned into traveling classrooms pull into at a displacement camp in Jindayris in the opposition-held northwestern Syrian province of Aleppo on May 23, 2023, following a devastating earthquake more than three months ago. (AFP)
Buses turned into traveling classrooms pull into at a displacement camp in Jindayris in the opposition-held northwestern Syrian province of Aleppo on May 23, 2023, following a devastating earthquake more than three months ago. (AFP)

In a dusty Syrian camp for earthquake survivors, school pupils line up and wait for a colorful bus to pull up. Since the disaster hit, they go to a classroom on wheels.

School bags on their backs and notebooks in hand, the children took off their shoes before entering the bus, then sat down along rows of desks fitted inside.

A teacher greeted them in the mobile classroom, decorated with curtains bearing children's designs, before they broke into a song for their English class.

The February 6 quake killed nearly 6,000 people in Syria, many of them in the war-torn country's opposition-held northwest, and also left tens of thousands dead in Türkiye.

The Syrian town of Jindayris, in Aleppo province near the Turkish border, was among the worst hit, with homes destroyed and school buildings either levelled or turned into shelters.

"We were living in Jindayris and the earthquake happened... and then we didn't have homes anymore," said 10-year-old Jawaher Hilal, a light pink headscarf covering her hair.

"We came to live here and the school was very far away," said the fifth-grader now staying with her family at the displacement camp on the outskirts of town.

As relief services were set up, she told AFP, "The buses came here and we started to study and learn. The buses are really nice, they teach us a lot."

The travelling classrooms are a project of the non-profit Orange Organization and service more than 3,000 children at some 27 camps, said education officer Raad al-Abd.

"The mobile classrooms offer educational services as well as psychological support to children who were affected by the quake," he said.

'Desperate conditions'

More than three months after the quake, 3.7 million children in Syria "continue to face desperate conditions and need humanitarian assistance", says the United Nations children's agency UNICEF.

"Almost 1.9 million children have had their education disrupted, with many schools still being used as shelters," it added in a statement this month.

In northwest Syria alone, "a minimum of 452 primary and secondary schools" were reportedly damaged to varying degrees, the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said weeks ago.

"More than 1 million school-aged children need education support and are at risk of being out of school," it said, adding that at least 25,000 teachers are also in need of help, including "mental health and psychosocial support".

On another bus, boys and girls enthusiastically interacted with the teacher, balloons hanging from the ceiling, for lessons that included Arabic, math and science.

Outside in the bare dirt, children sang in a circle and clapped along with the educators.

As the buses left, pulling out through the road running between the camps' tents, adjacent structures and trees, the children yelled out and waved goodbye.

Jawaher's father Ramadan Hilal expressed relief and gratitude for the initiative.

"After the earthquake there were no more schools or anything else," he said. "Even though they wanted to establish schools, they are far away."


As Guns Go Silent, Gazan Children Still Have Nightmares 

Palestinian girl, Bissan al-Mansi, speaks to a psychiatrist at her house, in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, May 16, 2023. (Reuters)
Palestinian girl, Bissan al-Mansi, speaks to a psychiatrist at her house, in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, May 16, 2023. (Reuters)
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As Guns Go Silent, Gazan Children Still Have Nightmares 

Palestinian girl, Bissan al-Mansi, speaks to a psychiatrist at her house, in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, May 16, 2023. (Reuters)
Palestinian girl, Bissan al-Mansi, speaks to a psychiatrist at her house, in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, May 16, 2023. (Reuters)

Whenever a door slams, 10-year-old Bissan al-Mansi mistakes it for a bomb dropping. More than a week has passed since the latest round of fighting with Israel in Gaza, but al-Mansi says she still has nightmares.

Local psychiatrists said al-Mansi's symptoms were common among many children living in the enclave, who were experiencing lack of sleep, anxiety, bedwetting, as well as a tendency to stay glued to their parents and avoid going outdoors.

Palestinians have lived through several wars with Israel since 2008, which have made healing almost impossible as the causes remain unchanged, say local and international experts. They put the number of children needing mental health help at nearly a quarter of the enclave's 2.3 million population that lives under a crippling blockade enforced by Israel, which controls and restricts the Gaza Strip's borders.

Previous studies in Israel also find that Israeli children under continuous exposure to rocket fire in areas near Gaza experience high levels of stress, aggression and anxiety.

The latest bout of cross-border fire, which lasted five days, began with Israeli air strikes against alleged Islamic Jihad commanders in Gaza. Israeli officials alleged more than 1,000 rockets were fired at Israel. In all, 33 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, including children as well as six alleged armed group commanders, while an Israeli and a Palestinian worker were killed in Israel.

There are no safe bomb shelters in Gaza, where over 50% of Palestinians live in poverty and have no other place to take shelter than in their homes. Palestinian officials and international humanitarian organizations have warned that the healthcare system is on the brink of collapse. Access to health services is limited, movement is severely restricted, and the psychological scars run deep, aid groups have said.

"My dreams have changed, they were nicer before," said al-Mansi, who has seen a psychiatrist since the fighting ended. "I have a lot of fear. I can no longer sleep at night."

The girl's house, in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, was among several homes that had been damaged or destroyed when Israel bombed their neighborhood after giving residents about 30 minutes to evacuate.

Al-Mansi, one of five siblings, said she was now too afraid to go outside, even to play with her friends. Before the fighting, she would wake up early eager to go to school, where her favorite subjects are Arabic and history, but since the fighting ended she hasn't returned.

"If someone slams the door, I imagine it is an air strike," she said.

'They bombed the whole square'

According to Hamas officials, the movement ruling Gaza, the latest round of Israeli air strikes, which began on May 9, destroyed 100 housing units and damaged 2,000 buildings.

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process Tor Wennesland condemned the Israeli air strikes that killed civilians, while Israel denied it targets civilians. Wennesland also condemned the "indiscriminate" firing of rockets toward Israel.

Social activists, medics with the Palestinian Red Crescent, and psychiatrists toured areas affected and met with the children and their families to offer guidance on recovery.

"I came here to distract myself from the pressure," said Joudy Harb, 11, as volunteers in cartoon costumes painted the children's faces, played and danced. "They said they wanted to bomb two houses and instead, they bombed the whole square."

According to officials from the UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF), half of the young people in Gaza - around 500,000 children - could be in need of psychological support after 11 days of fighting in 2021 between Gaza's Hamas and Israel.

UN officials and Palestinian mental health experts said that for the sake of all children's well-being and their future, a long-term peaceful solution to the Israeli military occupation is needed, one that prevents a repetition of wars and is sustainable.

Following another round of fighting, Palestinian families said the traumatic symptoms their children endured have worsened.

"Unfortunately, the fear remains planted in their hearts," said Mazeyouna al-Mansi, the girl's aunt.


How Damage from a US Debt Default Could Cascade Across the Global Economy 

The likeness of Benjamin Franklin is seen on US $100 bills, Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Marple Township, Pa. (AP)
The likeness of Benjamin Franklin is seen on US $100 bills, Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Marple Township, Pa. (AP)
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How Damage from a US Debt Default Could Cascade Across the Global Economy 

The likeness of Benjamin Franklin is seen on US $100 bills, Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Marple Township, Pa. (AP)
The likeness of Benjamin Franklin is seen on US $100 bills, Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Marple Township, Pa. (AP)

If the debt crisis roiling Washington were eventually to send the United States crashing into recession, America's economy would hardly sink alone.

The repercussions of a first-ever default on the federal debt would quickly reverberate around the world. Orders for Chinese factories that sell electronics to the United States could dry up. Swiss investors who own US Treasurys would suffer losses. Sri Lankan companies could no longer deploy dollars as an alternative to their own dodgy currency.

“No corner of the global economy will be spared” if the US government defaulted and the crisis weren't resolved quickly, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

Zandi and two colleagues at Moody’s have concluded that even if the debt limit were breached for no more than week, the US economy would weaken so much, so fast, as to wipe out roughly1.5 million jobs.

And if a government default were to last much longer — well into the summer — the consequences would be far more dire, Zandi and his colleagues found in their analysis: US economic growth would sink, 7.8 million American jobs would vanish, borrowing rates would jump, the unemployment rate would soar from the current 3.4% to 8% and a stock-market plunge would erase $10 trillion in household wealth.

Of course, it might not come to that. The White House and House Republicans, seeking a breakthrough, concluded a round of debt-limit negotiations Sunday, with plans to resume talks Monday. The Republicans have threatened to let the government default on its debts by refusing to raise the statutory limit on what it can borrow unless President Joe Biden and the Democrats accept sharp spending cuts and other concessions.

Feeding the anxiety is the fact that so much financial activity hinges on confidence that America will always pay its financial obligations. Its debt, long viewed as an ultra-safe asset, is a foundation of global commerce, built on decades of trust in the United States. A default could shatter the $24 trillion market for Treasury debt, cause financial markets to freeze up and ignite an international crisis.

“A debt default would be a cataclysmic event, with an unpredictable but probably dramatic fallout on US and global financial markets,” said Eswar Prasad, professor of trade policy at Cornell University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The threat has emerged just as the world economy is contending with a panoply of threats — from surging inflation and interest rates to the ongoing repercussions of Russia's invasion of Ukraine to the tightening grip of authoritarian regimes. On top of all that, many countries have grown skeptical of America’s outsize role in global finance.

In the past, American political leaders generally managed to step away from the brink and raise the debt limit before it was too late. Congress has raised, revised or extended the borrowing cap 78 times since 1960, most recently in 2021.

Yet the problem has worsened. Partisan divisions in Congress have widened while the debt has grown after years of rising spending and deep tax cuts. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the government could default as soon as June 1 if lawmakers don't raise or suspend the ceiling.

“If the trustworthiness of (Treasurys) would become impaired for any reason, it would send shockwaves through the system ... and have immense consequences for global growth,” said Maurice Obstfeld, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund.

Treasurys are widely used as collateral for loans, as a buffer against bank losses, as a haven in times of high uncertainty and as a place for central banks to park foreign exchange reserves.

Given their perceived safety, the US government’s debts — Treasury bills, bonds and notes — carry a risk weighting of zero in international bank regulations. Foreign governments and private investors hold nearly $7.6 trillion of the debt — roughly 31% of the Treasurys in financial markets.

Because the dollar's dominance has made it the de facto global currency since World War II, it's relatively easy for the United States to borrow and finance an ever-growing pile of government debt.

But high demand for dollars also tends to make them more valuable than other currencies, and that imposes a cost: A strong dollar makes American goods pricier relative to their foreign rivals, leaving US exporters at a competitive disadvantage. That’s one reason why the United States has run trade deficits every year since 1975.

Of all the foreign exchange reserves held by the world’s central banks, US dollars account for 58%. No. 2 is the euro: 20%. China’s yuan makes up under 3%, according to the IMF.

Researchers at the Federal Reserve have calculated that from 1999 to 2019, 96% of trade in the Americas was invoiced in US dollars. So was 74% of trade in Asia. Elsewhere outside of Europe, where the euro dominates, dollars accounted for 79% of trade.

So reliable is America's currency that merchants in some unstable economies demand payment in dollars, instead of their own country’s currency. Consider Sri Lanka, battered by inflation and a dizzying drop in the local currency. Earlier this year, shippers refused to release 1,000 containers of urgently needed food unless they were paid in dollars. The shipments piled up at the docks in Colombo because the importers weren't able to obtain dollars to pay the suppliers.

“Without (dollars), we can’t do any transaction,” said Nihal Seneviratne, a spokesman for Essential Food Importers and Traders Association. “When we import, we have to use hard currency — mostly the US dollars.”

Likewise, many shops and restaurants in Lebanon, where inflation has raged and the currency has plunged, are demanding payment in dollars. In 2000, Ecuador responded to an economic crisis by replacing its own currency, the sucre, with dollars — a process called “dollarization” — and has stuck with it.

Even when a crisis originates in the United States, the dollar is invariably the go-to haven for investors. That's what happened in late 2008, when the collapse of the US real estate market toppled hundreds of banks and financial firms, including once-mighty Lehman Brothers: The dollar's value shot up.

“Even though we were the problem — we, the United States — there was still a flight to quality,” said Clay Lowery, who oversees research at the Institute of International Finance, a banking trade group. “The dollar is king.”

If the United States were to pierce the debt limit without resolving the dispute and the Treasury defaulted on its payments, Zandi suggests that the dollar would once again rise, at least initially, “because of the uncertainty and the fear. Global investors just wouldn’t know where to go except to where they always go when there’s a crisis and that’s to the United States.”

But the Treasury market would likely be paralyzed. Investors might shift money instead into US money market funds or the bonds of top-flight US corporations. Eventually, Zandi says, growing doubts would shrink the dollar's value and keep it down.

In a debt-ceiling crisis, Lowery, who was an assistant Treasury secretary during the 2008 crisis, imagines that the United States would continue to make interest payments to bondholders. And it would try to pay its other obligations — to contractors and retirees, for example — in the order that those bills became due and as money became available.

For bills that were due on June 3, for example, the government might pay on June 5. A bit of relief would come around June 15. That's when government revenue would pour in in as many taxpayers make estimated tax payments for the second quarter.

The government would likely be sued by those who weren’t getting paid — “anybody who lives off veterans’ benefits or Social Security,” Lowery said. And ratings agencies would likely downgrade US debt, even if the Treasury continued to pay interest to bondholders.

The dollar, though it remains dominant globally, has lost some ground in recent years as more banks, businesses and investors have turned to the euro and, to a lesser extent, China’s yuan. Other countries tend to resent how swings in the dollar's value can hurt their own currencies and economies.

A rising dollar can trigger crises abroad by drawing investment out of other countries and raising their cost of repaying dollar-denominated loans. The United States’ eagerness to use the dollar’s clout to impose financial sanctions against rivals and adversaries is also viewed uneasily by some other countries.

So far, though, no clear alternatives have emerged. The euro lags far behind the dollar. Even more so does China’s yuan; it's hamstrung by Beijing’s refusal to let its currency trade freely in global markets.

But the debt ceiling drama is sure to heighten questions about the enormous financial power of the United States and the dollar.

“The global economy is in a pretty fragile place right now,” Obstfeld said. “So throwing into that mix a crisis over the creditworthiness of US obligations is incredibly irresponsible.”


Sudan War Locks Depositors Out of Savings

People cross a road in Khartoum amid ongoing fighting between the forces of two rival generals, on May 18, 2023. (AFP)
People cross a road in Khartoum amid ongoing fighting between the forces of two rival generals, on May 18, 2023. (AFP)
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Sudan War Locks Depositors Out of Savings

People cross a road in Khartoum amid ongoing fighting between the forces of two rival generals, on May 18, 2023. (AFP)
People cross a road in Khartoum amid ongoing fighting between the forces of two rival generals, on May 18, 2023. (AFP)

On a scorching sidewalk, Ibrahim Said hopes to withdraw his savings from a Sudanese bank, but the wait seems as unending as the war that has brought the country's financial system to a standstill.

Said is one of dozens of depositors who have queued at a branch of the Bank of Khartoum in Madani, a city about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of the capital, to recover their savings.

"I have been here since seven in the morning hoping to withdraw money from my account," he told AFP.

One of half a million people who fled Khartoum for safer cities, Said escaped with what little cash he happened to have in the house when the capital was rocked on April 15 by air strikes and shelling that have not stopped since.

Now, he is locked out of his savings as the fighting between the army under General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy-turned-foe Mohamed Hamdan Daglo's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) shows no signs of abating.

Ishraq al-Rih has been coming to the same bank branch for three days, and on each occasion it has been the same.

"At around 3:00 pm, they open the doors, let in a very small number of people, and if you're not one of the lucky ones you have to come back the next day," she said.

Every passing day brings more anxiety, as families ration their cash to make ends meet, terrified of what footage shared online of looted banks and empty safes means for their savings.

Locked out

"We don't know what to do. We have money in the bank but we can't touch it," Ahmed Abdelaziz told AFP, standing outside the closed gate of Omdurman National Bank.

The 45-year-old civil servant thought he was safe in Madani, where tens of thousands of people have settled but cannot escape the impact of the battles that rage in the capital.

"The servers that control every bank's operations are all in Khartoum, and employees can't get to them because of the fighting," said Mohamed Abdelaziz, who works in the banking sector.

Even in states untouched by the violence, "branches have lost contact with the headquarters that used to validate operations," leaving managers unable to replenish reserves and allow withdrawals, he said.

In a move questioned by observers considering the entire sector is at a standstill, army chief Burhan declared a freeze on RSF assets this week and dismissed the central bank governor.

"Bank-to-bank payments have been completely cut; we can't transfer any money between accounts," said an employee of Sudanese French Bank who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sudan was brought to its knees by two decades of international sanctions against former ruler Omar al-Bashir, as well as rampant corruption and the 2011 independence of South Sudan which held almost all the country's oil.

Even after Bashir was toppled in 2019 and the sanctions were lifted, the International Monetary Fund said Sudan remained on an international donors' list of "heavily indebted poor countries" and characterized its banking sector as "fragile, with several banks undercapitalized".

Emptied out safes

Sudan's fledgling banking sector -- which does not accommodate credit card payments or international transfers between individuals -- had $11.2 billion in assets at the end of 2019, according to the IMF.

It is unclear how much of that is left, however, as the country had already experienced years of economic woes, including a free-falling currency, before fighters began smashing their way into banks and emptying safes.

From the first week of the war, the army accused the RSF of breaking into a subsidiary of the central bank in Khartoum and stealing "huge sums of money".

The country's banking federation has repeatedly moved to assure clients that their assets and financial records are intact and has vowed to "restore banking services as soon as conditions permit".

Despite promises of ceasefires and the restoration of services to increasingly desperate civilians, conditions have remained unchanged for over a month.

For the time being, depositors like Said, Rih and Abdelaziz are being forced to use whatever means they have to get staples such as flour, which has doubled in price, or petrol -- now 20 times what it cost before the conflict.


Conflict Paralyzes Sudan’s Banking System

The Central Bank of Sudan. (AFP)
The Central Bank of Sudan. (AFP)
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Conflict Paralyzes Sudan’s Banking System

The Central Bank of Sudan. (AFP)
The Central Bank of Sudan. (AFP)

The Sudanese banking sector has been mired in a state of paralysis since the eruption of war between the army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on April 15. Amid feeble efforts to reinstate services, the North African country’s Central Bank has taken it upon itself to address the crisis.

The banking sector, including the Central Bank of Sudan, has faced significant disruptions leading to the suspension of services, all stemming from the extensive damage inflicted on their electronic systems.

It began with power outages, initially impeding operations, followed by deliberate acts of sabotage targeting control centers and core computer systems.

As a result, ATM networks were rendered inoperable and subject to widespread acts of vandalism and looting.

Additionally, e-payment applications and direct banking activities came to a standstill.

Consequently, an acute liquidity crisis unfolded, exacerbated by opportunistic “brokers” who took advantage of the prevailing wartime circumstances.

The Central Bank has declared that it has restored services at its branches and at commercial banks across the states outside the capital, denying that the looting has impacted depositors.

Observers said these actions merely scratch the surface of the wider calamity that has gripped Sudan’s banking and financial system.

Despite the resumption of operations in some branches of the Central Bank and commercial banks outside Khartoum, restoring normal banking services faces challenges.

Millions of depositors in Khartoum cannot access branches in other states given the ongoing violence. Those who have access have to wait in long queues for services that are being carried out manually after electornic services came to a halt.

The Central Bank has announced its commitment to restoring banking services nationwide.

This dire situation emerged due to the near-total absence of law enforcement and security, which lawless gangs have exploited for looting.


Türkiye’s Kilicdaroglu May Struggle to Close Gap on Erdogan

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate of Türkiye’s main opposition alliance, speaks onstage at the Republican People's Party (CHP) headquarters on election night in Ankara, Türkiye, May 15, 2023. (Reuters)
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate of Türkiye’s main opposition alliance, speaks onstage at the Republican People's Party (CHP) headquarters on election night in Ankara, Türkiye, May 15, 2023. (Reuters)
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Türkiye’s Kilicdaroglu May Struggle to Close Gap on Erdogan

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate of Türkiye’s main opposition alliance, speaks onstage at the Republican People's Party (CHP) headquarters on election night in Ankara, Türkiye, May 15, 2023. (Reuters)
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate of Türkiye’s main opposition alliance, speaks onstage at the Republican People's Party (CHP) headquarters on election night in Ankara, Türkiye, May 15, 2023. (Reuters)

With the Turkish economy in trouble and six political parties campaigning for him, Kemal Kilicdaroglu had been oozing confidence ahead of elections on Sunday, predicting victory and a new "spring" after Recep Tayyip Erdogan's two decades in power.

But his hopes of leading Türkiye into a new era suffered a setback as the first round of the presidential election showed Erdogan with a lead that may prove difficult to overcome ahead of a runoff on May 28.

The head of Türkiye’s biggest opposition party, the mild-mannered Kilicdaroglu has carried the hopes of those Turkish voters desperate to see an end to Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian rule.

While lacking Erdogan's charisma, he has sought to rally voters with an inclusive platform and promises of a democratic reset for the country of 85 million, including a return to the parliamentary system of government and independence for a judiciary critics say Erdogan has used to crack down on dissent.

He has also promised an end to the unorthodox economic policies which Erdogan's critics say are to blame for dizzying inflation and a cost-of-living crisis that has sapped his popularity, and somewhat smoother relations with the West.

Kilicdaroglu, 74, has shown no sign of yielding following Sunday's first round results, accusing Erdogan's AK Party of interfering with the counting and reporting of results. The AK Party has denied this.

"Despite all his slanders and insults, Erdogan did not get the result he expected," Kilicdaroglu told supporters as the results came in.

"The election is not won on the balcony," he said, referring to a celebratory address Erdogan delivered to his supporters from his party's headquarters.

"If our nation says there's to be a 'second round', so be it. We will definitely win this election in the second round. Everyone will see it."

No clear vision?

Erdogan led with 49.5% of the vote on Sunday - short of the 50% needed to win in the first round. Kilicdaroglu got 45%.

Kilicdaroglu's chances may now hinge on an endorsement from Sinan Ogan, a nationalist who finished third with 5.2%.

But Ogan has said he can only support Kilicdaroglu in the runoff if he agrees to offer no concessions to the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which endorsed Kilicdaroglu for president although it is not part of the opposition alliance.

Detractors say Kilicdaroglu - who is scorned by Erdogan after suffering repeated election defeats as chair of the Republican People's Party (CHP) - lacks his opponent's power to rally audiences and fails to offer a clear vision for a post-Erdogan era.

He has been hoping to build on the opposition's 2019 triumph when the CHP defeated Erdogan's ruling AK Party in Istanbul and other big cities in local elections, thanks to support from other opposition party voters.

Kilicdaroglu sought to rally Turks of different stripes into an alliance including nationalists, Islamists, secularists and liberals. Critics have questioned whether he could hold together such an alliance in the event of victory.

Before entering politics, Kilicdaroglu worked in the finance ministry and then chaired Türkiye’s Social Insurance Institution for most of the 1990s. In speeches, Erdogan frequently disparages his performance in that role.

A former economist, he became a member of parliament in 2002 when Erdogan's AKP first swept to power, representing the center-left CHP, a party established by modern Türkiye’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk which has struggled to reach beyond its secularist grassroots toward conservatives.

However, he has spoken in recent years of a desire to heal old wounds with devout Muslims and Kurds.

Kilicdaroglu rose to prominence as the CHP's anti-graft campaigner, appearing on TV to brandish dossiers that led to high-profile resignations. A year after losing a mayoral run in Istanbul, he was elected unopposed as party leader in 2010.

His election fueled party hopes of a new start, but support for the CHP has since failed to surpass about 25%. Erdogan's AK party polled 43% in the last parliamentary elections of 2018.

Still, some view Kilicdaroglu as having quietly reformed the party and sidelined hardcore "Kemalists" espousing a rigid version of the ideas of Ataturk, while promoting members seen as more closely aligned with European social democratic values.

Critics say he has failed to bring flexibility to a static CHP and, in the end, imposed himself as presidential candidate over others who polled better head-to-head against Erdogan.

Born in the eastern Tunceli province, Kilicdaroglu is an Alevi, a minority group that follows a faith drawing on Shiite Muslim, Sufi and Anatolian folk traditions.

Nicknamed by Turkish media as "Gandhi Kemal" because of a passing resemblance with his slight, bespectacled appearance, he captured the public imagination in 2017 when he launched his 450 km "March for Justice" from Ankara to Istanbul over the arrest of a CHP deputy.