75 Years After the Nakba, Palestinians Still Long for Return

A woman holds a key symbolizing the homes left by Palestinians in 1948, during a rally along the border east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 1, 2023 marking the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. (AFP)
A woman holds a key symbolizing the homes left by Palestinians in 1948, during a rally along the border east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 1, 2023 marking the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. (AFP)
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75 Years After the Nakba, Palestinians Still Long for Return

A woman holds a key symbolizing the homes left by Palestinians in 1948, during a rally along the border east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 1, 2023 marking the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. (AFP)
A woman holds a key symbolizing the homes left by Palestinians in 1948, during a rally along the border east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 1, 2023 marking the 75th anniversary of the Nakba. (AFP)

From her modest home in the blockaded Gaza Strip, Amina al-Dabai remembers the very different world in which she grew up more than seven decades ago.

Born in 1934, Dabai was still only a child when Israel was created on May 14, 1948.

Now she is one of 5.9 million Palestinian refugees living in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria according to the United Nations.

They are descendants of more than 760,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes 75 years ago.

The event is known by Palestinians as the Nakba, or "catastrophe", during which more than 600 communities were destroyed or depopulated by Jewish forces, according to the Israeli organization Zochrot.

The memory of the Nakba, which is commemorated on May 15, has become a rallying point for the Palestinian quest for statehood.

It falls a day after Israel declared statehood in 1948, prompting an invasion by five Arab armies which the young nation defeated.

Ahead of the anniversary, AFP spoke to eight Palestinians in their 80s and 90s who were exiled during the Nakba to the Gaza Strip.

Soldiers in disguise

Dabai recalled the day "Jewish soldiers in disguise" arrived in her hometown of Lydda, now known as Lod in central Israel.

Because the fighters' faces were covered in keffiyehs, a scarf that has come to symbolize the Palestinian struggle, locals thought they were reinforcements sent from Jordan.

People were so delighted they "rushed for the fountain" in the town center to celebrate.

But realizing the soldiers were Jews, they "fled into the mosque and their homes".

"They (soldiers) stormed the mosque and killed everyone inside," she added. "I was young and saw it with my own eyes."

Planned deportation, expulsion or voluntary exile? A massacre of hundreds of civilians and unarmed fighters in a conflict where both sides were guilty of atrocities?

The events of July 12 to 13, 1948, during the capture of Lod by Israeli forces, remain the subject of debate and intense controversy even to this day.

One thing seems certain: the town was emptied of almost all of its 30,000 Arab residents practically overnight.

Following the war, the West Bank fell under Jordanian rule while Gaza was controlled by Egypt.

"We lived comfortably" until that point, recalled Dabai, as she reminisced about children playing on swings, the central market, and the trickling of water from a large fountain surrounded by shops.

But she is bitter about what she lost: "We were a weak country and we did not have powerful weapons."

The day after the disguised soldiers arrived, she said, they returned with orders -- leave Lod, or be killed.

"We said we don't want to leave. They said they would kill us. So all the poor people left, and we were among them," said Dabai.

The family fled on foot, walking for several days until they reached the town of Bir Zeit, near Ramallah in the West Bank, then moving on towards Egypt.

But the journey was too expensive and so the family settled in Gaza instead.

Like many, they were sure they would be back soon.

Only after the Oslo Accords established the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s did Dabai manage to obtain a permit to visit her old neighborhood in Lod.

"I put my hand on the wall of our house and said: 'my love, my grandfather's house, is destroyed, and our neighbors' homes are inhabited by Jews'", she said.

She told AFP she would not accept any compensation for the home, and no longer expected to return, but insisted that "future generations will liberate the country and return".

"No one was filming the massacres and what was happening, in the way we do today," she added, her voice breaking.

'They surrounded the village'

Umm Jaber Wishah was born in 1932 in the village of Beit Affa, near Ashkelon in what is now southern Israel.

Decades later, with her greying hair covered by a white shawl, she painfully recounts how things were initially peaceful.

When Jews first came to the area of the village, "they did not harm us and we didn't harm them," she told AFP from her home in the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

"The Arabs worked for them (Jews) without problems, in safety," she added.

Yet the coexistence did not last long. She remembers the day in May 1948 that it shattered.

"I was baking bread, and they surrounded the village," she said, fighting back tears.

"They (Jewish soldiers) began besieging the village from the eastern side, and we hid from the shooting until the next day."

"The men were tied up and were then taken prisoner, the children were screaming," she said.

According to Zochrot, Beit Affa was taken by Jewish forces the first time in July 1948 for a few days. During this period the residents in all likelihood left, ahead of the village's decisive capture later that year.

As in Palestinian refugee camps across the region, Bureij has long since traded temporary tents for more permanent structures of brick and wood. But many displaced still live in poverty.

Wishah, a wooden walking stick resting against her leg, said her Bureij home "means nothing".

"Even if they gave me the whole Gaza Strip in exchange for my homeland, I wouldn't accept it. My village is Beit Affa."

Rusty keys

Ibtihaj Dola, from the coastal city of Jaffa, also remembers living side-by-side with Jews before Israel was established.

One of her relatives through marriage was Jewish and the city's large Jewish minority "could speak Arabic", said the 88-year-old.

Dola remembered returning home from school one day to find her family packing and preparing to flee.

They boarded a boat for Egypt. She was still wearing her school uniform.

"I know Jaffa inch by inch," she said, fiddling with four rusty keys at her bedside in Gaza's Al-Shati refugee camp.

After the Oslo Accords she found an opportunity to return to Jaffa, where she discovered a Jewish woman was living in her house.

"We drank tea together and I started crying," she said, realizing the woman was not interested in the fate of the previous owners.

Many of those who were displaced assumed it would just be temporary. They locked their front doors and took large metal keys with them.

Those keys today have become a symbol of their plight and their over-riding demand to return. In many homes, these keys are kept safely in a locked box under a bed, or memorialized in drawings and embroidery.

Israel claims Palestinians left voluntarily during the fighting and has repeatedly rejected claims its forces may have been responsible for war crimes.

It has steadfastly denied Palestinians the right to return -- often a sticking point in peace talks -- claiming it would be tantamount to a demographic surrender of the state's Jewish nature.

In 2011, after demonstrators marking Nakba day clashed with police, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the participants of "questioning the very existence of Israel".

Recognition of the Nakba is strongly rejected by Israelis, according to Zochrot which works to raise awareness of this period in history.

According to the organization, Israelis "are taught a false, greatly distorted but convincing narrative of 'a land without a people for a people without a land'."

'Injustice does not last'

Hassan al-Kilani, born in 1934 in Burayr village just north of the Gaza Strip, said he would only accept compensation if there was a political agreement.

"We, Arabs and Palestinians, cannot match the strength of Israel, let's be realistic," he said, wearing a crisp white headscarf.

"We resist, but our resistance is limited compared to our enemy," he added.

Kilani, a former construction worker, sketched a plan of Burayr, noting the name of each family, plot by plot.

The drawing now hangs on the wall of his living room, a constant reminder of the village where he grew up.

"Everyone who remained in the country was killed... even livestock, camels and cows," he said.

On another wall of the living room, a key is hung, symbolizing the longed-for return.

"Injustice does not last," he added, but acknowledged, "I am old. How many years do I have left to live?"



Israel’s Iran Attack Carefully Calibrated after Internal Splits, US Pressure

People shop at a bazaar in Iran's central city of Isfahan on April 19, 2024. (IRNA/AFP)
People shop at a bazaar in Iran's central city of Isfahan on April 19, 2024. (IRNA/AFP)
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Israel’s Iran Attack Carefully Calibrated after Internal Splits, US Pressure

People shop at a bazaar in Iran's central city of Isfahan on April 19, 2024. (IRNA/AFP)
People shop at a bazaar in Iran's central city of Isfahan on April 19, 2024. (IRNA/AFP)

Israel's apparent strike on Iran after days of prevarication was small and appeared calibrated to dial back risks of a major war, even if the sheer fact it happened at all shattered a taboo of direct attacks that Tehran broke days earlier.

Netanyahu's war cabinet had initially approved plans for a strike on Monday night inside Iranian territory to respond forcefully to last Saturday's missile and drones from Iran, but held back at the last-minute, three sources with knowledge of the situation said.

By then, the sources said, the three voting members of the war cabinet had already ruled out the most drastic response - a strike on strategic sites including Iran's nuclear facilities whose destruction would almost certainly provoke a wider regional conflict.

Facing cabinet divisions and strong warnings from partners including the United States not to escalate, and aware of the need to keep international opinion on Israel's side, the plans to hit back were then postponed twice, the sources said. Two war cabinet meetings were also delayed twice, government officials said.

Netanyahu's office did not respond to requests for comment for this Reuters story. Before the attack, a spokesperson for the government's National Public Diplomacy Directorate cited Netanyahu as saying Israel would defend itself in whatever way it judged appropriate.

Reuters spoke to a dozen sources in Israel, Iran and the United States, who described six frantic days of efforts to limit the response to Iran's first ever direct attack on its arch rival after decades of shadow war.

Most of the sources asked not to be named to speak about sensitive matters.

The eventual strike on Friday appeared to target an Iranian Air Force base near the city of Isfahan, deep inside the country and close enough to nuclear facilities to send a message of Israel's reach but without using airplanes, ballistic missiles, striking any strategic sites or causing major damage.

Iran said its defense systems shot down three drones over a base near Isfahan early on Friday. Israel said nothing about the incident. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States had not been involved in any offensive operations,

An Iranian official told Reuters there were signs the drones were launched from within Iran by "infiltrators," which could obviate the need for retaliation.

A source familiar with western intelligence assessments of the incident also said initial evidence suggested Israel launched drones from inside Iranian territory. Iran's foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

"Israel tried to calibrate between the need to respond and a desire not to enter into a cycle of action and counter reaction that would just escalate endlessly," said Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington.

He described the situation as a dance, with both parties signaling to each other their intentions and next steps.

"There is huge relief across the Gulf region. It looks like the attack was limited and proportionate and caused limited damage. I see it a de-esclation," veteran Saudi analyst Abdelrahman al-Rashed told Reuters.

BIDEN CALL

The decision to hold back from broader and immediate action this week underlined the competing pressures on Netanyahu's government in the aftermath of the more than 300 drones and ballistic and cruise missiles fired by Iran on Saturday night.

As Iran's barrage unfolded, two members of the war cabinet, Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, both former armed forces commanders, wanted to respond straight away before agreeing to hold off following a call with US President Joe Biden and in the face of differing views from other ministers, two Israeli officials with knowledge of the situation said.

A spokesman for Gantz, a centrist who joined Netanyahu's emergency government following the Hamas-led attack on Israel last October, did not respond to a request for comment.

The US State Department declined to comment to questions about Israel's decision-making. Washington was working to de-escalate tensions, Blinken said on Friday. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aryeh Deri, the head of one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in Netanyahu's coalition, who has observer status in the war cabinet and who has generally been wary of drastic moves, was firmly opposed to an immediate strike against Iran, which he believed could endanger the people of Israel given the risk of escalation, a spokesperson for his party said.

"We should also be listening to our partners, to our friends in the world. I say this clearly: I see no shame or weakness in doing so," Deri told the "Haderech" newspaper.

Israel's options ranged from strikes on strategic Iranian facilities, including nuclear sites or Revolutionary Guards bases, to covert operations, targeted assassinations and cyber-attacks on strategic industrial plants and nuclear facilities, analysts and former officials in Israel have said.

By Thursday, four diplomatic and government sources in the region were expressing confidence that the response would be limited and proportionate.

Ahead of the overnight Israeli strike, one regional source, who had been briefed on Israel's thinking, said the response would aim to minimize or completely avoid casualties and was likely to target a military base.

Iranian officials had warned a major Israeli attack would trigger immediate retaliation.

Iran's options to respond included shutting down the Strait of Hormuz through which about a fifth of the world's oil passes, urging proxies to hit Israeli or US interests, and deploying previously unused missiles, a senior Iranian official said.

While satisfying Israel's moderates at home, its neighbors and international partners, the measured strike, when it came, was met with dismay from hardliners in Netanyahu's cabinet.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, whose ultranationalist party is a key prop in Netanyahu's coalition, posted a single word on X, “Feeble."


Beach Offers Rare Respite for Gazans

Palestinians enjoy the beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)
Palestinians enjoy the beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)
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Beach Offers Rare Respite for Gazans

Palestinians enjoy the beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)
Palestinians enjoy the beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

Hundreds of Gazans found rare respite at the beach this week from more than six months of traumatizing Israeli bombardments in the Palestinian territory.

After temperatures suddenly soared, children paddled in the sea and their friends played ball games on the sand around Deir el-Balah in the center of the coastal strip -- but the war was never far away, Agence France Presse reported Thursday.

Deir al-Balah city became a focus of fighting in Gaza between Israeli forces and Hamas militants. Israeli bombardments have left children dead and wounded.

"The children were happy and this was our first goal -- to get them out of the destruction, killing, and the atmosphere of war, even though they hear explosions every moment and planes in the air," said Naji Abu Waseem, displaced from Gaza City in the territory's north.

"God willing, this war will end and we will return to Gaza City, even to the rubble."

Many at the beach are living in makeshift shelters nearby. They are among the 1.7 million people the United Nations says have been uprooted by Gaza's war and left struggling for food, water and other essentials.

"The tent was like an oven," said Mahmud al-Khatib, 28, also displaced from Gaza's north. "The sea was the only option," where he took his wife and children.

"There's no infrastructure, no life, everything is nonexistent," Khatib said on Wednesday with the arrival of summer-like temperatures.

Groups of men lay in the sand looking at the waves as children played in the water. Women and girls in tunics and hijabs took photographs.

Yunis Abu Ramadan, displaced with his family from the Gaza City area, said that, "with shooting everywhere," it is impossible to forget the war.

"We live in fear and terror and wish to return to our homes in Gaza," he said.

Still, his wife, Umm Ramadan, said the beach was a welcome break from their cramped life in an overcrowded tent.

"We're packed like sardines," she said. "We do not know comfort or calm due to the (Israeli) air strikes and the fear and anxiety of the children."

Worry persisted even at the water's edge, Ramadan added.

"We saw all the people in the tents had reached the sea like us because the weather was very hot," she said.

"But we were afraid that we would be bombed while we were by the sea too, as (Israeli) boats were close to the shore," Ramadan added.

"We hope the war will end and we will return to our homes."


Gaza's IVF Embryos Destroyed by Israeli Strike

Palestinian woman Seba Jaafarawi, whose IVF embryos were stored at Al Basma IVF Center, gestures during an interview with Reuters via Zoom, in Cairo, Egypt, March 28, 2024, in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Palestinian woman Seba Jaafarawi, whose IVF embryos were stored at Al Basma IVF Center, gestures during an interview with Reuters via Zoom, in Cairo, Egypt, March 28, 2024, in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/Reuters TV
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Gaza's IVF Embryos Destroyed by Israeli Strike

Palestinian woman Seba Jaafarawi, whose IVF embryos were stored at Al Basma IVF Center, gestures during an interview with Reuters via Zoom, in Cairo, Egypt, March 28, 2024, in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Palestinian woman Seba Jaafarawi, whose IVF embryos were stored at Al Basma IVF Center, gestures during an interview with Reuters via Zoom, in Cairo, Egypt, March 28, 2024, in this still image taken from a video. REUTERS/Reuters TV

When an Israeli shell struck Gaza's largest fertility clinic in December, the explosion blasted the lids off five liquid nitrogen tanks stored in a corner of the embryology unit.
As the ultra-cold liquid evaporated, the temperature inside the tanks rose, destroying more than 4,000 embryos plus 1,000 more specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs stored at Gaza City's Al Basma IVF center.
The impact of that single explosion was far-reaching -- an example of the unseen toll Israel's six-and-a-half-month-old assault has had on the 2.3 million people of Gaza, Reuters reported.
The embryos in those tanks were the last hope for hundreds of Palestinian couples facing infertility.
"We know deeply what these 5,000 lives, or potential lives, meant for the parents, either for the future or for the past," said Bahaeldeen Ghalayini, 73, the Cambridge-trained obstetrician and gynecologist who established the clinic in 1997.
At least half of the couples — those who can no longer produce sperm or eggs to make viable embryos — will not have another chance to get pregnant, he said.
"My heart is divided into a million pieces," he said.
Three years of fertility treatment was a psychological roller coaster for Seba Jaafarawi. The retrieval of eggs from her ovaries was painful, the hormone injections had strong side-effects and the sadness when two attempted pregnancies failed seemed unbearable.
Jaafarawi, 32, and her husband could not get pregnant naturally and turned to in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is widely available in Gaza.
Large families are common in the enclave, where nearly half the population is under 18 and the fertility rate is high at 3.38 births per woman, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics. Britain's fertility rate is 1.63 births per woman.
Despite Gaza's poverty, couples facing infertility pursue IVF, some selling TVs and jewelry to pay the fees, Al Ghalayini said.

At least nine clinics in Gaza performed IVF, where eggs are collected from a woman's ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. The fertilized eggs, called embryos, are often frozen until the optimal time for transfer to a woman's uterus. Most frozen embryos in Gaza were stored at the Al Basma center.
In September, Jaafarawi became pregnant, her first successful IVF attempt.
"I did not even have time to celebrate the news," she said.
Two days before her first scheduled ultrasound scan, Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched an all-out assault that has since killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.
Jaafarawi worried: "How would I complete my pregnancy? What would happen to me and what would happen to the ones inside my womb?"
Her ultrasound never happened and Ghalayini closed his clinic, where an additional five of Jaafarawi's embryos were stored.
As the Israeli attacks intensified, Mohammed Ajjour, Al Basma's chief embryologist, started to worry about liquid nitrogen levels in the five specimen tanks. Top ups were needed every month or so to keep the temperature below -180C in each tank, which operate independent of electricity.
After the war began, Ajjour managed to procure one delivery of liquid nitrogen, but Israel cut electricity and fuel to Gaza, and most suppliers closed.
At the end of October, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza and soldiers closed in on the streets around the IVF center. It became too dangerous for Ajjour to check the tanks.
Jaafarawi knew she should rest to keep her fragile pregnancy safe, but hazards were everywhere: she climbed six flights of stairs to her apartment because the elevator stopped working; a bomb leveled the building next door and blasted out windows in her flat; food and water became scarce.
Instead of resting, she worried.
"I got very scared and there were signs that I would lose (the pregnancy)," she said.
Jaafarawi bled a little bit after she and her husband left home and moved south to Khan Younis. The bleeding subsided, but her fear did not.

They crossed into Egypt on Nov. 12 and in Cairo, her first ultrasound showed she was pregnant with twins and they were alive.
But after a few days, she experienced painful cramps, bleeding and a sudden shift in her belly. She made it to hospital, but the miscarriage had already begun.
"The sounds of me screaming and crying at the hospital are still (echoing) in my ears," she said.
The pain of loss has not stopped.
"Whatever you imagine or I tell you about how hard the IVF journey is, only those who have gone through it know what it's really like," she said.
Jaafarawi wanted to return to the war zone, retrieve her frozen embryos and attempt IVF again.
But it was soon too late.
Ghalayini said a single Israeli shell struck the corner of the center, blowing up the ground floor embryology lab. He does not know if the attack specifically targeted the lab or not.
"All these lives were killed or taken away: 5,000 lives in one shell," he said.
In April, the embryology lab was still strewn with broken masonry, blown-up lab supplies and, amid the rubble, the liquid nitrogen tanks, according to a Reuters-commissioned journalist who visited the site.
The lids were open and, still visible at the bottom of one of the tanks, a basket was filled with tiny color-coded straws containing the ruined microscopic embryos.


Sudan’s Year-Old War: The Build-up and the Turmoil 

A boy holds bullet cartridges as clashes between Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army continue, in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 13, 2023.  (Reuters)
A boy holds bullet cartridges as clashes between Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army continue, in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 13, 2023. (Reuters)
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Sudan’s Year-Old War: The Build-up and the Turmoil 

A boy holds bullet cartridges as clashes between Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army continue, in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 13, 2023.  (Reuters)
A boy holds bullet cartridges as clashes between Sudan's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and the army continue, in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 13, 2023. (Reuters)

Sudan is now a year into a war between rival military factions that has killed thousands, forced millions to flee and created a humanitarian catastrophe.

Below is a timeline of the events that led up to the conflict and the turmoil that followed:

THE BUILD-UP

Dec. 19, 2018 - Hundreds protest in the northern city of Atbara against soaring bread prices. Demonstrations spurred by a broader economic crisis soon spread to Khartoum and other cities. Security services respond with tear gas and gunfire.

April 6, 2019 - Hundreds of thousands begin a sit-in outside army headquarters in Khartoum. Five days later the army overthrows and detains President Omar al-Bashir, ending his three-decade rule.

Aug. 17, 2019 - After a deadly raid on the sit-in at army headquarters in June causes outrage, the military and civilian groups sign a deal to share power during a transitional period leading to elections. Abdalla Hamdok, an economist and former UN official, is later appointed to head a government.

Oct. 25, 2021 - Security forces detain Hamdok and other top civilians in pre-dawn raids, following recriminations between civilian and military factions and a failed coup attempt. Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan says the civilian government has been dissolved.

Nov. 21, 2021 - After several rallies against the coup and the suspension of most international financial support for Sudan, military leaders and Hamdok announce a deal for his reinstatement as prime minister. He resigns less than two months later.

Dec. 5, 2022 - Civilian groups sign an initial deal with the military to start a new, two-year political transition and appoint a civilian government.

April 5, 2023 - The signing of a final deal is delayed for a second time amid disputes over whether the army would be placed under civilian oversight and over plans for the integration of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) into the army.

THE TURMOIL

April 13, 2023 - Sudan's army says mobilization by the RSF risks confrontation. Two days later, battles break out between the two forces in Khartoum and other cities.

April 21, 2023 - The number of residents fleeing Khartoum accelerates as army air strikes, clashes and looting hit the capital. Diplomats and expatriates rush to airstrips, borders and other evacuation points in the days and weeks that follow.

May 20, 2023 - At talks in Jeddah, the warring factions agree to a seven-day ceasefire, but fighting barely pauses. The US-Saudi brokered negotiations are the first of several failed international attempts to settle the conflict.

July 2023 - Violence spreads in the strife-torn western region of Darfur, where the RSF makes further advances in the following months.

Dec. 14, 2023 - Families in conflict zones could experience famine-like conditions in 2024, the UN warns. Some 30 million, almost two-thirds of the population, need help, double the number before the war. Humanitarian alerts mount in the following months.

Dec. 19, 2023 - The army withdraws as the RSF advances to take Wad Madani, the capital of al-Gezira state. The RSF largely controls neighboring Khartoum, almost all of Darfur and much of Kordofan, while the army holds the north and east including Sudan's main Red Sea port. Both sides have committed abuses, the UN and the US say.

March 12, 2024 - The army says it has taken control of the state broadcaster's headquarters in Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, part of its biggest advance against the RSF in months. Sources say Iranian-made drones are helping the army turn the tide.

April 9, 2024 - Fighting spreads to the up-to-now calm farming state of al-Gadaref, where almost half a million people have taken refuge.


Sudan Crisis: 25 Million in Need, 8 Million Displaced, Famine Fears

 Sudanese refugees collecting water from a well on the Sudanese-Chadian border (EPA)
Sudanese refugees collecting water from a well on the Sudanese-Chadian border (EPA)
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Sudan Crisis: 25 Million in Need, 8 Million Displaced, Famine Fears

 Sudanese refugees collecting water from a well on the Sudanese-Chadian border (EPA)
Sudanese refugees collecting water from a well on the Sudanese-Chadian border (EPA)

In Sudan, a year of conflict has turned lives upside down, with thousands killed and millions forced to leave their homes. Many seek refuge in neighboring countries like Chad, South Sudan, and Egypt.

The crisis threatens Sudan’s stability and risks spreading unrest across the region. While global attention focuses elsewhere, officials warn of the urgent need for action.

Reflecting on the crisis, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, condemned the silence surrounding Sudan, emphasizing the urgent need for international action.

Similarly, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator described the suffering as unimaginable, emphasizing the need for diplomacy, aid access, and funding to prevent further catastrophe as the conflict enters its second year.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths highlighted the escalating hardships stemming from violence, hunger, displacement, and disease, warning that without expanded efforts in three key areas—diplomacy to halt fighting, access to those in need, and funding for humanitarian response—the situation could deteriorate further as the conflict enters its second year.

This stark assessment underscores the critical importance of immediate and concerted international intervention to avert a worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan.

In Sudan, over 15,000 have lost their lives in the ongoing conflict.

According to Linda-Greenfield, around 25 million Sudanese urgently need humanitarian aid, with three-quarters struggling to find enough food. About 8 million have been forced from their homes, making it the world's largest internal displacement crisis.

The UN warns of a looming catastrophe, with Sudan facing the biggest displacement crisis globally and potentially one of the worst hunger crises.

Roughly 18 million are severely food insecure, with nearly 5 million on the edge of famine in conflict zones. Additionally, 3.5 million children suffer from acute malnutrition.

The World Health Organization fears 230,000 children, pregnant women, and new mothers could die in the next few months without immediate aid and funding.


Reaction to Iran’s Drone, Missile Attack on Israel

 Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Jerusalem April 14, 2024. (Reuters)
Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Jerusalem April 14, 2024. (Reuters)
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Reaction to Iran’s Drone, Missile Attack on Israel

 Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Jerusalem April 14, 2024. (Reuters)
Objects are seen in the sky above Jerusalem after Iran launched drones and missiles towards Israel, in Jerusalem April 14, 2024. (Reuters)

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps said it launched dozens of drones and missiles at Israel on Saturday, in an attack that could lead to a major escalation between the regional archenemies.

Here is some reaction to the attack from official statements and postings on social media:

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

"In recent years, and especially in recent weeks, Israel has been preparing for a direct attack by Iran. Our defensive systems are deployed; we are ready for any scenario, both defensively and offensively. The State of Israel is strong. The IDF is strong. The public is strong.

"We appreciate the US standing alongside Israel, as well as the support of Britain, France and many other countries. We have determined a clear principle: Whoever harms us, we will harm them. We will defend ourselves against any threat and will do so level-headedly and with determination."

IRAN'S MISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS

"... Iran’s military action was in response to the Zionist regime’s aggression against our diplomatic premises in Damascus. The matter can be deemed concluded.

"However, should the Israeli regime make another mistake, Iran’s response will be considerably more severe. It is a conflict between Iran and the rogue Israeli regime, from which the US MUST STAY AWAY!"

US PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN

"I just met with my national security team for an update on Iran’s attacks against Israel. Our commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad."

US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES SPEAKER MIKE JOHNSON

"As Israel faces this vicious attack from Iran, America must show our full resolve to stand with our critical ally. The world must be assured: Israel is not alone."

UN SECRETARY-GENERAL ANTONIO GUTERRES

"I strongly condemn the serious escalation represented by the large-scale attack launched on Israel by the Islamic Republic of Iran this evening. I call for an immediate cessation of these hostilities.

"I am deeply alarmed about the very real danger of a devastating region-wide escalation. I urge all parties to exercise maximum restraint to avoid any action that could lead to major military confrontations on multiple fronts in the Middle East.

"I have repeatedly stressed that neither the region nor the world can afford another war."

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER RISHI SUNAK

"I condemn in the strongest terms the Iranian regime’s reckless attack against Israel. These strikes risk inflaming tensions and destabilizing the region. Iran has once again demonstrated that it is intent on sowing chaos in its own backyard.

"The UK will continue to stand up for Israel’s security and that of all our regional partners, including Jordan and Iraq. Alongside our allies, we are urgently working to stabilize the situation and prevent further escalation. No one wants to see more bloodshed.”

CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU

"Canada unequivocally condemns Iran’s airborne attacks against Israel. We stand with Israel. After supporting Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 attack, the Iranian regime’s latest actions will further destabilize the region and make lasting peace more difficult.

"These attacks demonstrate yet again the Iranian regime’s disregard for peace and stability in the region. We support Israel’s right to defend itself and its people from these attacks."

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER ANNALENA BAERBOCK

"Iran has fired drones and missiles at Israel. We strongly condemn the ongoing attack, which could plunge an entire region into chaos. Iran and its proxies must stop this immediately. Israel offers our full solidarity at this time."

GERMAN AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL STEFFEN SEIBERT

"Germany’s solidarity is with all Israelis tonight whom Iran is terrorizing with this unprecedented and ruthless attack: Jews as well as Arabs and Christians, the Bedouins in the Negev as well as the Druze in the Golan. May they all be safe.”

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER STEPHANE SEJOURNE

"France condemns in the strongest terms the attack launched by Iran against Israel. By deciding on such an unprecedented action, Iran is taking a new step in its destabilizing actions and taking the risk of a military escalation."

EUROPEAN UNION FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF JOSEP BORRELL

"The EU strongly condemns the unacceptable Iranian attack against Israel. This is an unprecedented escalation and a grave threat to regional security."

EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT CHARLES MICHEL

"Strongly condemn the attack launched by Iran on Israel. Everything must be done to prevent further regional escalation. More bloodshed must be avoided. We will continue to follow the situation closely with our partners."

SPANISH PRIME MINISTER PEDRO SANCHEZ

"We are following events in the Middle East with the deepest concern. We are in permanent contact with our embassies in the region which will remain open to support Spaniards in the area.”

DUTCH PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE

"Very worrying situation in the Middle East. Earlier today, the Netherlands and other countries sent a loud and clear message to Iran to refrain from attacking Israel. The Netherlands strongly condemns Iran's attacks on Israel. Further escalation must be prevented. ... We continue to monitor developments very closely."

DANISH FOREIGN MINISTER LARS LOKKE RASMUSSEN

"Denmark strongly condemns Iran's announced attack on Israel. I urge everyone to show restraint and deescalate the situation. Iran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East is unacceptable - and so is this attack."

NORWEGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ESPEN BARTH EIDE

"I condemn the illegal and dangerous Iranian attack underway against Israel. This will further deteriorate an already extremely volatile situation. We must prevent further escalation of violence in the Middle East. I call upon all parties to exercise maximum restraint."

CZECH REPUBLIC FOREIGN MINISTRY

"Czechia firmly condemns the destabilizing behavior of Iran and its proxies who decided to attack Israel. We reiterate the Israeli right for self-defense. Iran’s long term aggressive behavior is preventing the Middle East region to live in peace and security."

COLOMBIA'S PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO

"It was predictable; we're now in the prelude to World War III precisely when humanity should rebuild its economy towards the rapid goal of decarbonization. The support of the US, in practice, for a genocide, has ignited the world. Everyone knows how wars start, no one knows how they end. If only the people of Israel were high enough, like their ancestors, to stop the madness of their ruler. The United Nations must meet urgently and must immediately commit to peace."

ARGENTINA'S PRESIDENT JAVIER MILEI

"The office of President Javier Milei expresses its solidarity and unwavering commitment to the State of Israel following the attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Republic of Argentina recognizes the right of State-Nations to defend themselves and strongly supports the State of Israel in the defense of its sovereignty, in particular against regimes that promote terror and seek the destruction of western civilization."

PARAGUAY'S PRESIDENT SANTIAGO PENA

"In such difficult times, we express our full support for the people of Israel, and are concerned about the increase of violence in the region. We remain in contact with our embassies in the region to serve our compatriots."

CHILE'S FOREIGN MINISTER ALBERTO VAN KLAVEREN

"We express our concern about the serious escalation of tensions in the Middle East and the Iranian attacks against Israel. Chile condemns the use of force and defends international humanitarian law, which protects civilian lives in armed conflicts."

MEXICO'S FOREIGN MINISTRY

"The government of Mexico expresses deep concern over Iran's attack against Israeli territory, and the impact that this could have on thousands of human lives. Mexico condemns the use of force in international relations, and calls on the parties to self-restrain and seek solutions peacefully to avoid a more general conflict in the Middle East. Mexico also emphasizes the importance of respecting international law for the sake of international peace and security."


Lebanon Recalls Civil War as Latest Unrest Threatens New Strife

Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
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Lebanon Recalls Civil War as Latest Unrest Threatens New Strife

Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)
Mourners carry the coffin of Pascal Sleiman, an official of the Lebanese Forces party, during his funeral in Jbeil, Lebanon, 12 April 2024. (EPA)

Lebanon commemorated on Saturday the 49th anniversary of the Lebanese civil war that erupted on April 13, 1975, and ended in 1990 with the adoption of the Taif Accord.

The war left over 200,000 people dead, thousands missing, and massive destruction of state infrastructure and institutions.

People who lived through the war are now warning that the factors that led to its eruption are available now, saying they are almost identical to the conditions that were present in 1975.

The saying “history repeats itself” doesn’t seem to mean anything to the people in Lebanon, said former minister and MP Butros Harb.

He recalled that the “sympathy shown by some Lebanese people, especially its Sunnis, to the Palestinians allowed the Palestine Liberation Organization to effectively seize control of the country” in the 1970s, which was one of the sources of tension that led to the war.

“Today, the Shiite sect, represented by Hezbollah, is insisting on sympathizing with Iran and its interests, again placing Lebanon on a path that may be more dangerous than what took place in the past,” Harb told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The situation today is much more challenging because it pits you in a confrontation with one segment of the Lebanese people – the Shiites – causing a deep division between two camps: one that wants life, stability and prosperity and another that wants martyrdom and to keep fighting and place the country in a constant state of war,” he added.

Harb spoke of factors that helped Hezbollah seize control of Lebanon, such as its shared interest with Christian and non-Christian parties. He criticized former President Michel Aoun, who “in order to become president, obstructed state functioning and allowed Hezbollah to run rampant.”

“Lebanon now habitually lives in a state where it doesn’t have a president or a functioning government or constitutional institutions,” he went on to say.

“Lebanon will never become livable and rid itself of the constant cycle of wars if the Lebanese people don’t wake up and abandon their loyalty to Iran, the Arabs, United States and others,” warned Harb.

“My heart breaks and I ache over what has become of Lebanon,” he said.

Lebanese politician Toufik Sultan echoed Harb’s remarks, saying the factors that sparked the civil war are still present now, including the warlords who were active back then and who still control the country today.

“No one learned from the tragedies of the past,” he lamented in remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat.”

“The players who were active during the war are still present today,” he noted.

“Lebanon is a sick country whose only treatment lies in abandoning sectarianism and for the sects to let go of the interests of their leaders,” he stressed.

Moreover, he said the kidnapping and killing of Pascal Sleiman, the Lebanese Forces coordinator in Jbeil, around a week ago was a major shock in Lebanon that could have led to “rampant chaos.”

On Monday, the army said Sleiman, who had gone missing the day before, was killed in a carjacking by Syrian gang members who then took his body across the border.

His killing 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 rushed to quell tensions after the killing prompted fears of renewed street brawls between rival parties and triggered beatings of Syrians.

Lebanon 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.

Harb warned that Sleiman’s killing could lead to chaos in Lebanon. “Such practices could lead Syrians in Lebanon to seek any means to defend themselves, stay alive and maintain their sources of income,” he went on to say. He also warned against attempts to exploit the Syrians to deliberately stir strife.

He acknowledged that the presence of the refugees throughout the country was “very dangerous for Lebanon,” calling for “finding a way to return them home.”

He heavily blamed the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement MP Gebran Bassil for the problem, recalling that when the Syrians first started pouring into Lebanon at the beginning of the conflict, he had “strongly opposed at cabinet the establishment of camps where they could be sheltered under United Nations supervision.”

The unrest and weakening of official authorities are a reflection of the weakness of the state and inability to elect a new president, form a new government and enact reforms that would resolve several crises.

Sultan said tackling the situation and averting a new war can only take place through an internal settlement that would be less costly than listening to foreign dictates.

“Whoever has risen to the top must show some humility and reach an understanding with their partners in the nation to avoid strife that could destroy the country,” he urged.

Furthermore, he warned that the refugee problem was “a danger to all the Lebanese people, not just its Christians,” but violence is not the way to resolve it.

“The Syrian presence in Lebanon would not have become so problematic were it not for international opposition to their return home, which is part of a conspiracy against Lebanon,” he said.


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.