Sunday, March 31, 2019

At Arab League Summit, Guterres Reaffirms Strong Link Between UN and People of Arab World
United Nations Secretary-General delivered his remarks remarks to the Summit of the League of Arab States, Tunis, 31 March 2019.
31 March 2019
Peace and Security

Attending the Summit of the League of Arab States in Tunis, Tunisia, on Sunday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, recognized the critical importance of the region on the international stage and called for even stronger cooperation between the UN and the Arab States.

“North Africa and the Middle East are home to remarkable dynamism and potential. It is a region long-striving to build peace and prosperity.  I believe it is vital for this region to assume that destiny,” he told the room filled with dozens of political leaders from the 22 League Member States. “The United Nations has no other agenda than to support those aspirations in a spirit of solidarity and unity.”

Citing the many contributions that the Arab world made to global civilization throughout history, he also expressed admiration for the way many Arab countries are “extending remarkable hospitality to wave upon wave of refugees in a context where, unfortunately, many other borders [are] closing.”

The Secretary-General went on to highlight the “turbulent winds” that have affected the region, from “the wars in Yemen and Syria”, to “the rise and fall of Daesh” and “the persistent denial of the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people”.

“I strongly appeal for the unity of the Arab world as a fundamental condition for peace and prosperity in the region, and to avoid leaving the region vulnerable to interference by foreign parties with destabilizing effects,” he said, calling for a regional vision rooted in cooperation, respect and mutual interest.

Mr. Guterres mentioned the need to “untangle the Gordian knot of insecurity, allow no space for sectarianism, and deliver the peace, stability and effective, responsive governance that the people of the region deserve.” He also emphasized the need “to create jobs and economic opportunities, to uphold human rights for all, advance gender equality and women’s empowerment and promote the rule of law, diversity, fundamental freedoms and democratic values”.

Four imperatives to fight the ‘turbulent winds’

The UN chief then spoke of four specific issues in the region that could benefit from a comprehensive regional approach, starting with the imperative for a two-State solution, for Israel and Palestine, “living side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders, and with Jerusalem (Al-Quds) as capital of both States”.

“There is no Plan B: without two states, there is no solution,” he stressed, noting that the ongoing violence in Gaza is a tragic reminder of the fragility of the situation.

The second specific issue the UN chief mentioned is the conflict in Yemen: “Following last December’s breakthrough in Stockholm, we continue to work closely with the parties to achieve progress towards the redeployment of forces in Hudaydah and the opening of humanitarian corridors on the way to a political solution for Yemen.”

Third, regarding the eight-year long conflict in Libya, he hailed the recent progress towards building political consensus for convening the National Conference. “I am hopeful that further progress can be achieved with a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process with the support of the international community within the framework of the UN Action Plan,” noting it is “high time that Libya achieves unified institutions and concludes the transitional stages with general elections.”

Finally, he mentioned that, as “millions of Syrians remain displaced and in need, and tens of thousands are arbitrarily detained…we must keep working to forge a political path to a sustainable peace in which all Syrians are heard, grievances are addressed, and needs are met.”

“Any resolution of the Syrian conflict must guarantee the unity, the territorial integrity of Syria, including the occupied Golan,” he stressed.

For an even stronger UN-Arab States cooperation

“The Arab Region and its people have made enormous sacrifices to fight terrorism - and have paid the highest price for this,” said the UN Secretary-General, assuring that “the United Nations is stepping up support for the efforts of the Arab States in this struggle.”

He announced that the UN will soon open a new Liaison Office to the League of Arab States in Cairo to work together on important matters such as improving the living conditions for Iraqis, and support stability in Lebanon.

“Let us work ever closer together to unleash the full potential of this vital region, respond to the aspirations of youth and build a better future for all,” the UN chief concluded.
Arab League Unites Against Trump Administration’s Israel ‘Bias’ After Golan Heights Recognition
Middle Eastern leaders remain divided over whether to readmit Syria to summit

Bouazza Bin Bouazza,
Samy Magdy
The Independent

Leaders of major Middle Eastern countries were united in their condemnation of Trump administration policies which they say are biased towards Israel at the annual Arab League summit.

However, they were divided on a host of other issues, including whether to readmit founding member Syria, at the meeting in Tunisia on Sunday.

This year’s summit comes against a backdrop of ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen, rival authorities in Libya and a lingering boycott of Qatar by four fellow league members.

Algeria’s president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir skipped the meeting as they contended with mass protests against their long reigns.

Representatives from the 22-member league – minus Syria – aim to jointly condemn Donald Trump’s recognition of Israeli control over the Golan Heights, which Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 war, and Mr Trump’s decision last year to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

At the opening of the summit, King Salman said Saudi Arabia “absolutely rejects any measures undermining Syria’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights” and supports the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

He added that Iran’s meddling was to blame for instability in the region.

Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said that interferences by regional rivals Iran and Turkey have “worsened some crises and created new problems”.

EU rejects Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights, defying Trump

One of the few things that has united the Arab League over the last 50 years is the rejection of Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights as well as East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territories seized in the 1967 war that the Palestinians want for their future state.

The international community, including the United States, largely shared that position until Mr Trump upended decades of US policy by moving the American embassy to Jerusalem last year and recognising Israel’s 1981 annexation of the strategic Golan plateau earlier this month.

The Arab leaders meeting in Tunisia are expected to issue a statement condemning those moves. Mahmoud Khemiri, a spokesperson of the summit, said there will be a “strong resolution” on Golan. But the leaders are unlikely to take any further action.

That is in part because regional powerhouses Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have cultivated close ties with the Trump administration, viewing it as a key ally against their main rival, Iran.

Both countries face western pressure over their devastating three-year war with Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and Riyadh is still grappling with the fallout from the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents last year.

Lebanon‘s foreign minister Gebran Bassil said on Saturday that Arab ministers had voiced support in a preparatory meeting for a declaration that Mr Trump’s Golan move violates the UN Charter, which prohibits acquiring territories by force.

Israel-Gaza conflict: UN urges restraint after violence escalates between warring factions
In Syria, small protests against Mr Trump’s Golan move were held in different parts of the country and state media criticised the Arab summit.

“The Golan is not awaiting support from the Arabs, and not a statement to condemn what Trump has done,” the Thawra newspaper said in an editorial that accused Arab leaders of taking their orders from the US and Israel.

The Arab League is expected to consider readmitting Syria, a founding member that was expelled in the early days of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad. But officials speaking ahead of the meeting said it was unlikely Syria would be welcomed back anytime soon.

The United Arab Emirates reopened its embassy in Damascus last year, and other Arab states have expressed support for restoring relations. But Saudi Arabia and Qatar have actively supported the rebels trying to overthrow Mr Assad, and many other states view his government as an Iranian proxy that should continue to be shunned.

Some countries were represented by their heads of state on Sunday, while others sent lower-level delegations.

Why is Trump’s Golan Heights announcement controversial?

The UAE sent the lesser-known Fujairah ruler Hamad bin Mohammed al-Sharqi rather than the powerful Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed or Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.

In a rare sign of easing tensions, King Salman and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani sat at the same sprawling table at Sunday’s opening session. It was the first time the two leaders have appeared in the same room since Saudi Arabia led the boycott of Qatar nearly two years ago over Doha’s ties to Iran and its support for regional Islamist groups.

However, Qatar’s emir left the summit after the opening session and did not attend the closed-door meeting later in the day, according to Qatar’s state-run news agency. It did not give a reason for his early departure.

Associated Press
Algerian Army Reiterates Calls to Declare President Unfit for Office
Africa News

Algeria’s army chief renewed a call for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be declared unfit for office and told opponents not to seek to undermine the military, after weeks of protests demanding an end to the ailing leader’s 20-year rule.

Bouteflika, 82, who has rarely been seen in public in recent years, has faced mass demonstrations for more than a month. His announcement that he would not seek a fifth term but that he would not quit immediately has failed to assuage protesters.

To break the stalemate, Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah made a proposal on Tuesday for the constitutional council declare Bouteflika unfit for office, a move provided for under article 102 of the charter.

Salah said in a statement issued by the Defence Ministry on Saturday that most people supported the army’s plan but some were resisting, without naming those opposed to the move.

He said these opponents had met on Saturday to start a media campaign against the army claiming people were against Salah’s proposals.

He said trying to undermine the military, a revered institution in Algeria whose support has long been seen as vital to keeping Bouteflika and the ruling elite in power, was a “red line” that should not be crossed. He did not elaborate.

“All that emerges from these suspicious meetings of proposals that do not conform to constitutional legitimacy or undermine the national army, which is a red line, is totally unacceptable,” he said in the statement.

Bouteflika established himself in the early 2000s by ending a civil war that had claimed 200,000 lives. But he has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, and now faces the biggest crisis of his two-decade rule.

Under the constitution, the chairman of parliament’s upper house, Abdelkader Bensalah, would serve as caretaker president for at least 45 days if Bouteflika stepped down.

However, there is no obvious long-term successor to rule the nation which secured independence from France in 1962 after years of conflict and was embroiled in a bloody Islamist insurgency during the 1990s.
Cyclone Idai: Total Death Toll at 746, Over 2,390 Injured, 2.9m Impacted
March 30: Update on Cyclone Idai impact

Hundreds of thousands of people are in need of food, water and shelter after Cyclone Idai battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

As of Saturday, at least 746 people had been reported killed by the storm, the flooding it caused and heavy rains before it hit. Following is an outline of the disaster, according to government and United Nations officials:


Cyclone Idai landed on the night of March 14 near the port city of Beira, bringing heavy winds and rains. Two major rivers, the Buzi and the Pungue, burst their banks, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the water.

There has been a lot of damage. Many homes have been left without roofs.

People killed: 501
People injured: 1,523
Houses damaged or destroyed: 99,317
Crops damaged: 669,903 hectares
People affected: 1.85 million


On March 16, the storm hit eastern Zimbabwe, where it flattened homes and flooded communities in the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts.

People killed: 185, according to government. The U.N. migration agency puts the death toll at 259.
People injured: 200
People displaced: 16,000 households
People affected: 250,000


Before it arrived, the storm brought heavy rains and flooding to the lower Shire River districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje, in Malawi’s south. The rains continued after the storm hit, compounding the misery of tens of thousands of people.

People killed: 60
People injured: 672
People displaced: 19,328 households
People affected: 868,895

Rescue operation called off in Mozambique

President Filipe Nyusi on Thursday told a news conference authorities had called off rescue operations for victims of the deadly cyclone which tore through the central parts of the country on March 15.

He described it as the “worst humanitarian disaster in Mozambique”.

The storm killed at least 468 people and affected 1.85 million.

He said 945 rescuers had taken part in the two-week long search and rescue operation.

“We thank all of them. They are heroes,” he said.

Cyclone Idai smashed into Mozambique nearly two weeks ago, unleashing hurricane-force winds and heavy rains.

It flooded much of the centre of the poor southern African country and then battered eastern Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cholera cases in cyclone-ravaged Mozambique climbed sharply to 139 Thursday as authorities prepared to roll out a mass vaccination campaign to stem the spread of the deadly disease.

Counting the cost in Malawi

In Malawi, which was badly hit by flooding and heavy rains in the leadup to Cyclone Idai, the government said arable and livestock farming had been badly affected and that irrigation infrastructure had been damaged.

Agriculture ministry spokesman Hamilton Chimala said around 420,000 metric tonnes of maize had been lost, representing roughly 12 percent of the country’s forecast output of 3.3 million metric tons in the 2018/19 farming season.

Impoverished Malawi is regularly hit by food shortages, so the damage to the country’s staple grain is a cause for concern.

As of Wednesday, 713 people in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi had died in the tropical storm and in the heavy rains before it hit.

Battling cholera

Mozambique will start a cholera vaccination campaign next week in areas ravaged by Cyclone Idai, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, after five confirmed cases were detected.

David Wightwick, a senior member of the WHO’s response team in Beira, told reporters that seven clinics had been set up in Mozambique to treat cholera patients and that two more would be ready soon.

“We have 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccines which are coming in on Monday, and we will start a vaccination campaign as soon as possible next week,” Wightwick said.

“The first objective is to control the outbreak,” he said, warning though that “there are other places that remain cut off”.

Cholera is endemic to Mozambique, which has had regular outbreaks over the past five years. About 2,000 people were infected in the last outbreak, which ended in February 2018, according to the WHO.

But the scale of the damage to Beira’s water and sanitation infrastructure, coupled with its dense population, have raised fears that another epidemic would be difficult to put down.

Wightwick could not confirm whether there had yet been any deaths from cholera in Mozambique.

March 27: Mozambique confirms cholera cases

The fears of waterborne diseases became a reality on Wednesday as Mozambique confirmed five cases of cholera around the badly damaged port city of Beira after a powerful cyclone killed more than 700 people across a swathe of southern Africa.

The relief focus has increasingly turned to preventing or containing what many believe will be inevitable outbreaks of diseases like malaria and cholera.

“We did the lab tests and can confirm that these five people tested positive for cholera,” Ussein Isse, a senior Mozambican health official, told reporters. “It will spread. When you have one case, you have to expect more cases in the community.”

Health workers were also battling 2,700 cases of acute watery diarrhoea – which could be a symptom of cholera – Isse said, adding the government had organised a treatment centre for cholera in Beira hospital.

The World Health Organization is dispatching 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine to affected areas from a global stockpile. The shipment is expected to be sent later this week.

The death toll in Mozambique from Cyclone Idai has risen to 468, a Mozambican disaster management official said. That takes the total number of deaths in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi above 700 people, with many more missing.

As of Tuesday, at least 686 people had been reported killed by the storm, the flooding it caused and heavy rains before it hit. Following is an outline of the disaster, according to government and United Nations officials:


Cyclone Idai made landfall the night of March 14 near the port city of Beira, bringing heavy winds and rains. Two major rivers, the Buzi and the Pungue, burst their banks, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the water.

Number killed: 447
Number injured: 1,500
Houses damaged or destroyed: 33,600
Crops damaged: 500,000 hectares
Number affected: 1.85 million


On March 16, the storm hit eastern Zimbabwe, where it flattened homes and flooded communities in the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts.

Number killed: 179, according to government, which says 329 people are still unaccounted for. The U.N. migration agency puts the death toll at 259.
Number injured: 200
Number displaced: 16,000 households
Number affected: 250,000


Before it arrived, the storm brought heavy rains and flooding to the lower Shire River districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje, in Malawi’s south. The rains continued after the storm hit, compounding the misery of tens of thousands of people.

Number killed: 60
Number injured: 672
Number displaced: 19,328 households
Number affected: 868,895

Monday 25 March: 128,000 people in makeshift camps

Mozambique’s land and environment minister Celso Correia said on Monday the number of people in makeshift camps after a powerful cyclone in Mozambique has risen by 18,000 to 128,000 but the death toll remains roughly unchanged at 447.

“The loss of lives remains the same as yesterday,” Correia said. “The number of people saved in INGC (National Institute of Disaster Management) camps has increased to 128,000,” Correia told reporters at a briefing.

Cyclone Idai lashed the Mozambican port city of Beira with winds of up to 170 kph (105 mph), then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and killing at least 656 people across the three countries.

Combined death toll at 312, US army could deploy

The situation in the port city of Beira in Mozambique was “boiling” as residents suffered shortages of food, water and other essentials one week after a devastating cyclone, the head of a South African rescue operation said on Friday.

Cyclone Idai battered Beira, a low-lying city of 500,000 residents, with strong winds and torrential rains last week, before moving inland to neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi.

In Mozambique, 242 were killed in the storm and resulting floods, according to the official death toll, although this is expected to rise. In Malawi, around 56 were killed while Zimbabwe has recorded 142 deaths.

Around 15,000 people were still missing in Mozambique, Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia said late on Thursday. The government is expected to give a briefing on Friday morning to update the number of people missing and dead.

Briefing his team late on Thursday night, Connor Hartnady, rescue operations task force leader for Rescue South Africa, said Beira residents were becoming fed up with shortages.

“There have been three security incidents today, all food related,” he told his team, without giving further details.

Cartnady also said a group of 60 people had been discovered trapped by flood water in an area north of Beira during a reconnaissance flight. Rescue teams and the government were deciding how best to help them, he said, either by airlifting them to safety or dropping supplies.

The storm’s torrential rains caused the Buzi and Pungwe rivers, whose mouths are in the Beira area, to burst their banks.

Roads into Beira were cut off by the storm, and most of the city remains without power. The Red Cross has estimated 90 percent of the city was damaged or destroyed in the storm.

Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Information said at least 30 students, two headmasters and a teacher from three schools were missing in the eastern region of the country.

In the capital Harare there were shortages of diesel, leading to long queues following reports earlier this week that a control room for the pipeline in Beira that transports fuel to Zimbabwe had been damaged.

Combined death toll at 312, US army could deploy

Rescue workers plucked more survivors from trees and roofs to safety on Thursday, a week after a cyclone ripped through southern Africa and triggered devastating floods that have killed hundreds of people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

The death toll in Mozambique has risen to 217 and around 15,000 people, many of them very ill, still need to be rescued, Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia said, though rescue workers continue to find bodies and the toll could rise sharply.

“Our biggest fight is against the clock,” Correia told a news conference, adding that 3,000 had so far been rescued.

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, the death toll jumped to 139. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which is coordinating food drops, said 200,000 Zimbabweans would need urgent food aid for three months. In Malawi 56 people were confirmed dead.

“This is a catastrophe… Cyclone Idai has destroyed so much in an instance and it will take years for people to recover what they have lost,” said Edgar Jone, country director in Mozambique for the Christian aid charity Tearfund.

U.S. military teams could join the cyclone rescue effort in Mozambique, a representative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said, according to the minutes of a humanitarian meeting published on Thursday.

“The Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) will be mobilized. A military aircraft is in Maputo. The US Embassy is requesting approval to mobilize military teams to support rescue operations,” the minutes of Wednesday’s meeting showed, citing a USAID representative.

Mozambique deaths pass 200, rescue continues

Mozambique’s Minister of Land and Environment has given updated figures arising from the deadly cyclone Idai that ravaged the southern African country late last week.

Deaths = 200
Rescued = 3,000
Stranded = 15,000

Desperate rescue efforts

Aid agencies racing against time to rescue people trapped by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique changed tact on Wednesday, saying it was now ‘ a matter of life and death’.

Rescuers dropped high-energy biscuits, water purification tablets and other supplies to people surrounded by nothing but water and reddish-brown mud on Wednesday, Caroline Haga, an official with the International Federation of the Red Cross said.

Travis Trower, principal of Rescue South Africa, said many people remained trapped on islands of land around Beira but that the “acute rescue phase” – pulling people from rooftops and trees – was largely complete.

Trower described scenes where mothers passed him their children from trees and crowds of people swarmed around rescue helicopters when they were able to land.

On Tuesday, rescuers saved 167 people around Beira with the help of South African Air Force helicopters.

Aid groups have struggled to reach survivors trapped in more remote areas of Mozambique where some villages are submerged.

The United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, estimated that 260,000 children were at risk from the devastation, and the World Food Programme said it was trying to reach 500,000 people with immediate food assistance.

The EU, Britain and United Arab Emirates have donated millions of dollars of aid each to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe for emergency shelters, hygiene, sanitation and healthcare. Portugal is sending 35 soldiers and a team from the country’s National Republican Guard, its foreign minister said.

U.S. energy firm ExxonMobil, which is working on developing giant gas deposits off northern Mozambique, said it would donate $300,000 to relief efforts.

Over 200 dead in Mozambique after Cyclone Idai, millions hit

The number of people killed in a powerful cyclone and flooding in Mozambique has risen above 200, more than doubling the country’s death toll from a storm that could rank as one of the worst weather-related disasters in the southern hemisphere.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said in a televised statement following a cabinet meeting on the disaster on Tuesday that the death toll after Cylone Idai now stood at more than 200, up from 84.

Winds of up to 170 kph (105 mph) and flooding swept across southeastern Africa, including Zimbabwe and Mozambique, affecting more than 2.6 million people, United Nations officials said on Tuesday.

Rescue crews were still struggling to reach victims five days later, while aid groups said many survivors were trapped in remote areas, surrounded by wrecked roads, flattened buildings and submerged villages. The Red Cross said at least 400,000 people had been made homeless in central Mozambique alone.

“This is the worst humanitarian crisis in Mozambique’s history,” said Jamie LeSueur, who is leading rescue efforts in Beira for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The organisation said large areas to the west of the port city of Beira were severely flooded, and in places close to the Buzi and Pungwe rivers flood waters are metres deep, completely submerging homes, telephone poles and trees.

LeSueur had said earlier on Tuesday, when the death toll was 84, that the full human impact of the disaster remained unclear, and that the figure was likely to rise.

While the official count has increased, it remains well below the 1,000 deaths Nyusi had estimated after flying over some of the worst-hit zones, witnessing submerged villages and bodies floating in the water.

The cyclone hit land near Beira on Thursday and moved inland throughout the weekend, leaving heavy rains in its trail on Tuesday. More rural areas remained unaccessible.

Studies of satellite images suggested 1.7 million people were in the path of the cyclone in Mozambique and another 920,000 affected in Malawi, said Herve Verhoosel, senior spokesman at the U.N World Food Programme. He gave no figures for Zimbabwe.

In Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, people worried about missing relatives.

Telma fa Gloria, a street vendor, said she had not heard from her mother, who she usually speaks to every day, or her siblings, for days. Her mother’s neighbourhood was in one of the worst-hit areas.

“I’m stitched up, with nothing to do,” she said, adding she was thinking of going to Beira to find out what had happened. “I don’t have the strength to get the news I don’t want to hear, and I don’t wish anyone to hear.”

Tanzania, EU send emergency support

Tanzania has sent relief aid to neighbouring Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi following the devastating impact of Cyclone Idai that has ravaged parts of the country.

Reports indicate that the aid package included food and medical supplies. Overall, 214 tons of food and 24 tons of medical supplies were dispatched by the Tanzania government.

Members of the army are seen packing the supplies into military aircrafts to be sent to the affected areas.

South Africa and UNICEF were among the first to start a fund raiser aimed at gathering public support for humanitarian efforts. All three affected countries have called for assistance to contain the crisis.

The European Union has meanwhile released 3.5 million euros in emergency aid for the three countries. The breakdown of the funds are as follows:

Mozambique = 2 million euros
Zimbabwe = 1 million euros
Malawi = 500,000 euros
€3.5 million in EU emergency aid following cyclone Idai and deadly floods

Mozambique’s president, Filipe Nyusi on Monday said the death toll from Cyclone Idai and the preceding floods could exceed 1,000.

Only 84 deaths have been confirmed so far in Mozambique as a result of Cyclone Idai, which has also left a trail of death and destruction across Zimbabwe and Malawi, with vast areas of land flooded, roads destroyed and communication wiped out.

Speaking on Radio Mocambique, Nyusi said he had flown over the affected region, where two rivers had overflowed. Villages had disappeared, he said, and bodies were floating in the water.

“Everything indicates that we can register more than one thousand deaths,” he said.

The cyclone has also killed 89 people in Zimbabwe, an official said on Monday, while the death toll in Malawi from heavy rains and flooding stood at 56 as of last week. No new numbers had been released following the cyclone’s arrival in the country.

Caroline Haga, a senior International Federation of the Red Cross official who is in Beira, said the situation could be far worse in the surrounding areas, which remained completely cut off by road and where houses were not as sturdy.

Nyusi flew over areas that were otherwise accessible, and some of which had been hit by flooding before Cyclone Idai.

Southern Africa counting losses as South Africa sends support

As at Monday morning (March 18), government estimates showed that at least 89 people have died in Zimbabwe after Cyclone Idai tore across the eastern and southern parts of the country.

The scale of destruction is only becoming apparent as rescuers reach the most affected areas, near the border with Mozambique.

Chimanimani district has been cut off from the rest of the country by torrential rains and winds of up to 170 km per hour that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.

The ensuing humanitarian crisis heaps more pressure on a nation grappling with economic woes and a drought.

Video obtained by Reuters showed people weeping as bodies were recovered from a local church in the aftermath of the cyclone. Local officials say the body count is expected to rise.

Meanwhile Mozambique which was also battered has also recorded deaths amid heavy flooding. A combine figure of deaths would exceed the 100 mark as authorities grapple with massive flooding from the weekend.

Over in South Africa, President Ramaphosa deployed the South Africa National Defence Force, SANDF, to help Mozambican rescue effort.

Zimbabwe counts losses, president cuts UAE trip

Zimbabwean government continues its humanitarian response to the effects of Cyclone Idai which battered parts of the country leaving in its trail death and destruction.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa who was in Dubai on an official visit has cancelled the trip and is due back home to join in the efforts being rolled out to manage the crisis.

Flooding likely to continue

Mozambique’s weather service has warned that heavy rain will continue to batter Beira and surrounding areas until Sunday.

The UN warned of damage to crops, “including about 168,000 hectares (415,000 acres) of crops already impacted by flooding in early March, which will undermine food security and nutrition”.

Mozambique and Malawi, two of the poorest countries in the world, are prone to deadly flooding during the rainy season and chronic drought during the dry season.

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, weather services have warned that violent thunderstorms, lightning and strong winds will be experienced in the eastern regions of the country.

At least 126 people were killed by the downpour that has struck parts of Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa over the past week, officials said.

Cyclone Idai batters Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s information ministry said on Saturday that at least 24 people were killed when the tropical storm hit and swept away homes and bridges in the south eastern part of the country.

“Number of deaths is confirmed at 24 mainly from Chimanimani east. The number of missing people is currently 40 (and) the fatalities include 2 students,” the ministry said on Twitter.

Joshua Sacco, a member of parliament in the eastern district of Chimanimani, told Reuters that the storm had left a trail of destruction reminiscent of Cyclone Eline in February 2000, which devastated southern Zimbabwe.

Sacco said the death toll was expected to rise as authorities continued to assess the situation.
Chimanimani, which borders Mozambique, has been worst affected, with the storm causing floods as well as destroying crops, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Information said.

Air force helicopters were rescuing people, but flights were being slowed by heavy winds.

Counting the cost in Mozambique

Tropical cyclone Idai battered central Mozambique on Friday killing at least 19 people and cutting off more than half a million people in one of the country’s largest cities Beira.

State broadcaster Radio Mocambique, said “preliminary information points to 19 deaths and more than 70 injured in Sofala province as a result of cyclone Idai”.

Most of the deaths occurred in Beira — a port hub and capital of Sofala province — a city which has virtually been cut off after power lines crashed, the airport was shut and roads swamped by flooding.

“The hardest moment was overnight and this morning,” provincial governor Alberto Mondlane told state radio referring to the time the cyclone barrelled through the province.

“There has been a lot of damage. Many homes have been left without roofs,” he added.

An official at the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) told AFP earlier that “houses and trees were destroyed and pylons downed”.

Authorities were forced to close Beira international airport after the air traffic control tower, the navigation systems and the runways were damaged by the storm.

“Unfortunately there is extreme havoc,” said the official.

“Some runway lights were damaged, the navigation system is damaged, the control tower antennas and the control tower itself are all damaged.

“The runway is full of obstacles and parked aircrafts are damaged.”

Late on Wednesday, the national carrier LAM cancelled all flights to Beira and Quelimane, which is also on the coast, as well as to Chomoio, which is inland.

Power utility Electricidade de Mocambique said in a statement that the provinces of Manica, Sofala and parts of Inhambane have been without power since Thursday.

Another official, Pedro Armando Alberto Virgula, in Chinde north of Beira, said a hospital, police station and seven schools there lost their roofs and several houses were destroyed.

Bonifacio Cebola, a spokesman for the Beira Central Hospital, said that the theatre at the country’s second largest hospital was not spared and surgeries have been suspended.

“Because of the cyclone, the (theatre) no longer has conditions for patients to be operated on,” Cebola said to Radio Moçambique.

Braced for the worst

Authorities in Mozambique are working around the clock to mitigate the damage caused by a powerful tropical storm that made landfall on Thursday evening, battering a coastal city with heavy rain and wind at speeds of up to up 170 km an hour and injuring several people.

In Beira, a city of around 500,000 people and a gateway for imports to landlocked countries in southeast Africa, Twitter images and television footage showed billboards and rooftops blown off, trees snapped and electricity cables strewn across the streets.

In the northern Zambezi province, villages along the coastline were cut off from the mainland by the storm surge.

Mozambican television channel TVM reported that at least five people had been seriously injured.

Cyclone Idai dumped more water and brought destruction on areas where scores of people have already been killed and tens of thousands displaced by floods over the past week.

The Mozambican government’s emergency services have yet to give an update on the situation. The storm was also expected to hit parts of neighbouring Malawi.

“Cyclone Idai made landfall at about midnight and is now lying north west off Beira,” said Jan Vermeulen, senior forecaster at South African Weather service.

“We don’t have any communications from the area. This is an intense tropical cyclone, and I think there’s a lot of damage to infrastructure which is probably responsible for the loss in communications.”

As it moves inland on Friday, the weather system will weaken but is still expected to result in significant rainfall and widespread flooding over the Sofala and Manica provinces, the extreme eastern parts of Zimbabwe and southern parts of Malawi, the South African Weather Service said.

Mozambique has seen deadly floods worsened by devastating hurricanes in the past, including in 2000 and 2007. Cyclone Eline, which hit the country in February 2000 when it was already devastated by its worst floods in three decades, killed 350 people and made 650,000 homeless across southern Africa.

Mozambique has significant offshore liquefied natural gas projects underway in the north, but these are currently out of harm’s way.

Migration Can Not Be Solved by Physical Barriers -Pope Francis

Pope Francis said on Saturday the plight of migrants was “a wound that cries out to heaven” and could never be healed by physical barriers.

Francis, starting a two-day visit to Morocco, also backed Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s efforts to spread a form of Islam that promotes inter-religious dialogue and rejects violence in God’s name.

In recent months, migration has again risen to the fore of national political debates in a number of North African and European countries and the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to fulfil his campaign pledge to build a wall along the border with Mexico and on Friday threatened to close the border next week if Mexico did not stop immigrants reaching the United States.

“The issue of migration will never be resolved by raising barriers, fomenting fear of others or denying assistance to those who legitimately aspire to a better life for themselves and their families,” Francis said at the welcoming ceremony.

“We know too that the consolidation of true peace comes through the pursuit of social justice, which is indispensable for correcting the economic imbalances and political unrest that have always had a major role in generating conflicts and threatening the whole of humanity,” he said.

Morocco has become a key departure point for African migrants trying to reach Europe after crackdowns that closed or limited routes elsewhere. Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister has closed ports to rescue ships run by charity groups.

Francis, who has made defence of migrants and refugees a key part of his preaching, said he was concerned about their “frequently grim fate” and receiving countries must acknowledge that migrants were forced to leave their homes because of poverty and political upheaval.

From the airport to the city centre, Francis, 82, was driven in a white popemobile on a drizzly day as the 55-year-old king rode beside him standing up in a separate vehicle, a vintage black 1969 open-top Mercedes 600 Pullman.

In the afternoon, the pope spoke again of migration during a visit to a Church-run shelter. He called migration “a great and deep wound that continues to afflict our world at the beginning of this 21st century. A wound that cries out to heaven.”

He said migrants and refugees had rights and dignity “independent of their legal status” and that host communities should reject “all forms of discrimination and xenophobia”.

Francis and the king visited an institute the monarch founded to train imams and male and female preachers of Islam.

Morocco, which is almost entirely Muslim, has promoted itself as an oasis of religious tolerance in a region torn by militancy. It has offered training to Muslim preachers from Africa and Europe on what it describes as moderate Islam.

Francis, making the first papal visit to Morocco in 34 years, praised the monarch for providing “sound training to combat all forms of extremism, which so often lead to violence and terrorism, and which, in any event, constitute an offence against religion and against God himself”.
African-American Women Embrace Historic Moment of Chicago's Mayoral Race
Alayne Pierce, shown with her 4-year-old son, Durante Stokes III, said she is “super excited” that a black woman will be taking charge at City Hall regardless of the election’s outcome. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune)

Javonte Anderson
Chicago Tribune

A new era in Chicago politics will be ushered in when an African-American woman is elected mayor for the first time in city history. The magnitude of the moment has not escaped black female voters, who have mixed emotions heading into Tuesday’s election.

For many black women, Tuesday’s election will be a remarkable shift in Chicago’s history that signifies a progressive step forward for the city. Other black women say, however, that they are unfazed or even unimpressed by the focus on the race and gender of the candidates.

But come Tuesday, Lori Lightfoot or Toni Preckwinkle will be thrust into a unique position: responsible for managing the nation’s third-largest city while also becoming a symbol of hope for many African-American women.

“I’m super excited because something like this never happens and for it to be black women is even more empowering,” said Alayne Pierce, 30, of the Bronzeville neighborhood.

Pierce could hardly contain her smile while discussing the upcoming election one recent evening in Hyde Park.

“It’s a blessing to have a black woman running the city,” she said, struggling to hide her teeth.

Pierce, who voted early, said she was torn between the two candidates and she’ll be happy Tuesday no matter the outcome.

“I know that my next mayor is going to have a great Afro regardless,” she said, laughing.

Barbara Lumpkin, interim president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League and former city treasurer, said having two African-American women emerge from a historically crowded campaign is public validation that black women are prepared to lead in all environments.

“This is a wonderful milestone for the city and the nation because everyone is watching,” Lumpkin said.

Angela Washington, 46, of the Woodlawn neighborhood, said she has reservations about both candidates but was reluctant to voice her frustrations.

She wasn’t upset, just skeptical of their ability to create change.

It was deflating watching the runoff spiral into a campaign rife with controversy as professional critiques quickly escalated to name-calling and personal attacks, Washington said as she sat in a chair in her West Woodlawn hair salon.

“All the bickering back and forth during the campaign is the same old thing,” Washington said. “Why tear each other down like that?”

Washington acknowledged she was somewhat pleased that two women were vying to be Chicago’s mayor but said what a person looks like should not be a factor when casting a vote.

“I don’t care about the looks,” Washington said. “Looks won’t get you anywhere in life. It’s about the change that needs to be made.”

Phyllis Ragsdale, 71, of the Hyde Park neighborhood, agreed with Washington, saying it doesn’t matter who leads the city as long as that person brings about change.

There was a point in Ragsdale’s life when the cultural significance of having a black woman running the city would have resonated with her. But that time has passed, she said.

“There was a time when I would have been thrilled, thrilled to death, about having a black woman for mayor. But now it’s about change.”

Lara Stache, assistant professor of communication and program coordinator for the gender and sexuality studies program at Governors State University, said the historic runoff indicates a public shift in perspective, a shift that will allow all voters to not only conceptualize but physically see a woman in power.

“If we continue to see the same type of people in terms of gender, race and sexuality in positions of power, then people start to think that’s the archetype for leadership,” she said.

This is a moment in time at which enough people have determined not only can they see an African-American woman as mayor, they’ve recognized both women are capable of doing the job, Stache said.

Khalidah Medlock, 28, of the South Shore neighborhood, said she’s proud that Chicago is on the cusp of having its first African-American female mayor, but she said she would temper her excitement with patience.

“It’s a beautiful time for me as a black woman,” she said. “But some things need to be done to help the city. So, from that perspective, I’ll take a wait-and-see approach.”

Katie Lowe, 68, of the West Side, said the gravity of this election transcends politics.

“I think it would almost do the same thing for Chicago that Obama did for the United States, showing that we’re all equal, and we’re all capable,” she said.

Tamar Manasseh, 41, of the Englewood neighborhood, cautioned people against expecting Lightfoot or Preckwinkle to change the fortunes of African-Americans.

“I’m not confident any one of them will be better for the black community than a white man would,” she said.

But Lowe said having an African-American female mayor is symbolic.

“I think it’s time for change. I think Chicago needs a new breath of life in politics. Can a woman do it? Of course she can.”

Twitter @javontea
African American Teens Say They Were Denied Jobs at Six Flags Over Hairstyles
By Ann Smajstrla, Cox Media Group National Content Desk
Mar 31, 2019 - 6:46 PM

ARLINGTON, Texas - Two African American teens say they were denied jobs at Six Flags Over Texas because of their hairstyles.

Both teens were told they would have to cut their hair if they wanted jobs at the Arlington amusement park, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Brandon Kobe Pierce, 16, told WFAA-TV he’s worn his hair in a braid that reaches just past his shoulders for his whole life. He recently interviewed for a job at Six Flags Over Texas, and said interviewers told him his braid wouldn’t be allowed.

Pierce said he left the interview feeling dejected because he considers the braid a part of his identity. The Six Flags interviewers told him that women employees are allowed to put long hair in a bun, but that male employees don’t have that option.

"If girls are able to pull their hair back and have it long, then guys shouldn't have to cut their hair," he said.

Keiron Washington, 17, told local media he had a similar experience. The teen interviewed at Six Flags, and was told he’d have to cut his shoulder-length dreadlocks he’d been growing for years.

"They told me that I couldn't have dreads because it's more of an extreme hairstyle," Washington told NBC DFW.

Washington’s mother, Karis Washington, called the Six Flags Human Resources department to ask for a more detailed explanation.

"She said dreads are NOT allowed, but he can have braids. And said they are an extreme hairstyle," Karis Washington wrote in a Facebook post. “She also went on and compared them to tattoos and piercings.”

The Facebook post had more than 17,000 shares as of Saturday afternoon.

"Why cut his hair for a seasonal job and for $7-$9 an hour? If it was a career, different story," Karis Washington told NBC DFW.

Six Flags released the following statement regarding both incidents:

"Six Flags is one of the largest seasonal employers in the country, hiring more than 30,000 team members across 26 parks annually. We maintain a company-wide grooming code that includes standard uniforms for front-line team members and no extreme hairstyles such as drastic variations in hair color, locks or partially shaven heads. We do permit braids, and we also recognize that some team members may request accommodations to our grooming code due to religious, cultural or medical reasons. We work with those team members on a case-by-case basis to address his or her individual needs."
Why an African American Freemasons Group “Returned” to One of Slave Trade’s Darkest Places
By Joy Notoma in Cotonou, Benin
March 30, 2019

When a group of Prince Hall Masons from North Carolina arrived in Cotonou, Benin last month for the inauguration of a new grand lodge in Cotonou, the cultural significance wasn’t lost on the masons from Benin.

After The American Revolutionary War (1775-83), a formerly enslaved man from Massachusetts who had fought in the war for independence, was attracted to Freemason ideals like brotherly love, justice, and liberty, but the exclusively white group wouldn’t allow a black man in its ranks. The man, Prince Hall, wasn’t one to take no for an answer, though. With all the traditional tenets of masonry, he decided to start his own group of masons.

The group was granted a full charter in 1784 by the Grand Lodge of England and now has chapters all over the world, including in West African nations besides Benin, like Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Liberia. Prince Hall Masons in West Africa number into the hundreds, though the organization would not provide an exact number of members.

The inauguration of a Prince Hall lodge in Benin, where more than a million Africans, sold into slavery, departed the African coast, made the Masons from Benin emotional at the mention of it. But it wasn’t just the building. It was the fact that a delegation of African Americans had made the trip for the event. A sect of Freemasons born out of the type of discrimination that had never been seen in Benin, yet which the Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin) had indirectly sanctioned by way of its participation in the slave trade was now welcoming black Americans to Benin. To the Beninese masons, it was like a rare moment to right the wrongs of history.

“We have to welcome our brothers back. We want to say that we’re sorry for what happened all those years ago,” said Ismael Ogon, a French-speaking Prince Hall Mason from Cotonou. At the inauguration, sentiments like these were echoed over and over by the Beninese Prince Hall Masons.

In the United States, Prince Hall Masons have been a part of several landmark struggles for black civil rights, according to Milton Fitch, a state Senator from North Carolina, who presided over the inauguration. “Anywhere there have been achievement for black folks, Prince Hall Masons have been a part of it,” he said.

“Anywhere there have been achievement for black folks, Prince Hall Masons have been a part of it.”
A day before the inauguration event, the black American and Beninese Prince Hall Masons took a guided tour of the Slave Route in Ouidah (Route d’esclavages), a UNESCO-sponsored site of stops along the road where enslaved people walked to the port to be taken abroad in chains. The tour includes stops at sites like Place Chacha, where Africans were auctioned and branded with markers of sale before making the arduous walk to the ocean. At one stop, The Memorial of Remembrance, the group took a moment of silence for the enslaved people who died even before boarding the ships.

Cosmo Kenton, an American Mason, was moved by the the gravity of the tour, but he didn’t entertain any illusion about the significance of his trip. “It’s significant for me, but I can’t speak for anyone else,” he said while standing at the Door of No Return, a monument to the site where slave ships left port on the shores of the The Atlantic in Ouidah.

For Kenton, the beauty is in the symbolism of his “return” as a member of a group of black men that values freedom, integrity, and social service. But he’s not sure that outside of the circle of masons, the question of reconciliation for the evils of slavery between African Americans and Africans carries much weight to the average person on either continent.

With the rise of heritage tourism in places like Ghana, Benin, and Liberia, people of the diaspora who come to Africa seeking a genuine connection with the region of their ancestry sometimes encounter the reality that many people on the continent do not feel the connectedness of shared ancestry that people of the diaspora envision.

As of 2017, the Beninese government planned to invest $1 billion in tourism. The tourism sector would like to attract people who visit Benin to discover the cultural heritage of Vodun and natural sites like the floating village of Ganvié and Pendjari National Park, but is also looking into how to attract people who are interested in heritage tourism, according to Berenice Akinotcho, a communications specialist at Sémé City, the government-backed “international knowledge and innovation city.”

Most of the investment will come from private partnerships, according to José Pliya, the Director of the National Agency for the Promotion of Heritage and the Development of Tourism. Benin has already secured investments from the World Bank, the International Monetary Foundation, and partnerships with the African Parks Network and the Smithsonian Institution. The country, known as the birthplace of Vodun, plans to draw 700,000 tourists by 2021.

To that end, the government launched an open call in 2017 for proposals from entrepreneurs for ideas on how to improve Benin’s travel destinations. The winners of the challenge received $500,000 for the projects and an incubation period to develop their ideas at Sémé City.

It is true that without a DNA test, diasporans can’t be sure of exactly where they are from in Africa. Enslaved people in the United States mostly came from Senegambia and The Gold Coast (Ghana), while enslaved people from the Bight of Benin mostly went to the French Caribbean, Cuba, Trinidad, and Brazil.  Centuries of cultural diffusion and genetic intermingling have shifted the people’s kinship so that Africans and black Americans are more like distant cousins than brothers.

Towards the end of the evening, the state senator Milton Fitch led the gathering in a rendition of “Amazing Grace,” a Christian hymn written by a former slave trader that’s a staple African American spiritual.

From all indications, each Mason present was rapt with the emotion. Judging from the warmth in the room, the symbolism of their bond was enough.
African-American Cultural Program Gets New Building at UI
11:52 AM MARCH 31, 2019,

URBANA, Ill. — Fifty years after the University of Illinois opened an African-American cultural program, the group is moving into a new $5.9 million building.

Construction of the 8,000-square-foot, glass-and-brick structure for the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center is nearly complete, The News-Gazette reported . The cultural center was founded in 1969 as a home for black students, but is open to all students.

A “soft opening” is planned this spring, while a grand re-opening event will be held in the fall to commemorate the center’s 50th anniversary, said Nathan Stephens, the center’s director.

“It’s almost like being a kid on Christmas who has a parent who says, ‘You can’t go down until daylight,'” Stephens said. “I’m just ready to move in and experience it and appreciate it.”

The center has operated out of multiple locations. Its previous building was closed in 2014 for safety reasons and demolished in 2017. The center has since operated out of temporary space in a campus recreation building.

Stephens said its new location will be more convenient for students. The facility’s first floor includes a lounge, a large multipurpose room and activity spaces. The second floor contains offices, study areas and a computer lab.

The building includes a wall of glass that’s meant to be inviting to the public and reflect the center’s mission of inclusion, said principal architect Dina Griffin of Interactive Design Architects in Chicago.

“We knew we would get a lot of foot traffic going by the building,” she said. “We wanted people to see what was going on inside.”

The project was originally scheduled to be completed by January, but the winter weather caused delays, said senior project manager Clarence Odom of UI Facilities and Services.

The new center was funded by donations, university institutional funds and student fees, Odom said.
Illinois House Votes to Require Women, African Americans on All Corporate Boards
By Cole Lauterbach
Illinois News Network 
Mar 29, 2019

After a heated debate, calls of racism, and shouting, the Illinois state House of Representatives voted to require all publicly held companies in the state to have at least one woman and one African-American on the company's corporate board.

State Rep. Chris Welch’s bill, which passed Friday, would require any publicly-traded company headquartered in the state to have at least one woman and at least one African-American on its corporate boards starting in 2021.

“No later than the close of the 2020 calendar year, a publicly held domestic or foreign corporation whose principal executive offices, according to the corporation's SEC 10-K form, are located in Illinois shall have a minimum of one female director and one African American director on its board of directors,” according to the text of the bill. It would allow boards to expand to meet the requirements.

It would require the Secretary of State to keep an online list of corporations that would show if a company is in compliance with the law.

The bill would also impose fines up to $300,000 for failure to comply.

State Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, said Welch’s bill is one of many anti-business bills lawmakers have passed this year.

“We are destroying the ability for our state to grow,” she said.

The conversation got heated and included accusations of racism. Welch, D-Westchester, said African-Americans and women deserve to have a voice in corporate America, which he said they’re not getting now.

“I’m not going to be ashamed to stand here and fight for the people that sent me here,” he said. “Ashamed to fight for African-Americans to have a right in a room? Are you kidding me?”

The Senate now takes the bill for consideration.

Debate on Friday included talk of expanding the requirement to include all minorities, not just African-Americans.

California lawmakers approved a similar law, which will take effect in 2021. California's law only applies to women.

Some legal scholars questioned California’s requirements when they were enacted, saying they could run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
Israeli Tanks Hit Positions in Gaza After ‘Rocket Fire’
Sun Mar 31, 2019 05:01AM

This file photo shows a ball of fire billowing above buildings in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, during Israeli strikes on March 27, 2019. (By AFP)

Israeli tanks have shelled the Gaza Strip after alleged rocket fire from the blockaded coastal sliver into the occupied territories.

The Israeli army said that its tanks had hit “a number of positions” belonging to the Hamas resistance movement in Gaza early on Sunday morning. The shelling, it claimed, came hours after five rockets were fired at the southern occupied lands from Gaza and triggered sirens in Eshkol regional council.

A spokesperson for the council claimed that the rockets had landed in open territory and no casualties or damage had been reported.

The new Israeli act of aggression followed the regime’s deadly crackdown on a mass protest in Gaza on Saturday, which marked the anniversary of the Great March of Return and the Palestinian Land Day.

The Gaza Health Ministry said three 17-year-old Palestinians were killed and 316 others injured during the demonstration. Another Palestinian was also shot and killed early on Saturday morning near the Gaza fence before the rally.

The Tel Aviv regime carries out regular attacks on the Gaza Strip, often claiming that it is hitting positions belonging to Hamas. The coastal strip has been under a crippling siege by Israel since 2007 and witnessed three Israeli wars since 2008.

Gaza has also witnessed tensions since March 30, 2018, which marked the start of the March of Return protests, during which participants have been demanding the right to return for those Palestinians driven out of their homeland due to various forms of Israeli aggression.

The Israeli violence against the protesters in Gaza has left at least 266 Palestinians dead and over 30,000 others wounded over the past year, according to the Gazan Health Ministry. Khalil al-Hayya, a Hamas figure, has stressed that the Palestinian people are determined to continue their peaceful protests until their demands are met.
American Officials Say Many Troops Will Remain in Syria in Reversal of Total Pullout
Sat Mar 30, 2019 07:57AM

The US flag flutters on a military vehicle in Manbij countryside, Syria, May 12, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

American officials say the US has backpedaled on its plan for a total withdrawal from Syria and will keep a large portion of its forces on the ground there.

The officials told the New York Times on Friday that the Pentagon mulls cutting its combat force in northeastern Syria roughly in half by early May - or to about 1,000 troops - and then pause the process.

The US military, they added, will then assess conditions and reduce the number of forces in Syria every six months or so, until it reaches 400.

US President Donald Trump announced the plan to withdraw all 2,000 American forces from Syria last December. Since then, however, American officials have provided contradictory statements on the procedure.

Trump's abrupt move sparked concern among officials in Washington, prompting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to step down in protest. The pullout order also raised worries among US-backed Kurdish militants operating in northern Syria and left them feeling abandoned by Washington.

In February, a senior administration official said that Trump had agreed to keep about 400 US troops in Syria, split between a safe zone in the country's northeast and al-Tanf base in Homs Province.

Despite the shift, Trump claimed at the time that he was not "reversing course” on Syria and that the remaining troops would be “a very small, tiny fraction” of the forces.

The American officials, who were speaking on condition of anonymity, told the New York Times that under the latest Syria plan, the Pentagon may not have to reach that lowest troop level until the fall of 2020.

Meanwhile, military officials warned that the Syria withdrawal timetable remained fluid and that final force levels could be changed given a range of factors.

“We continue to implement the president’s direction to draw down US forces to a residual presence in a deliberate and coordinated manner,” said Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman for the US military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. “This work is ongoing and, for operational security reasons, we will not discuss specific US troop numbers or drawdown timelines.”

After Trump’s pullout order, the American military started withdrawing equipment from Syria  while increasing the number of troops to almost 3,000.

However, the current number of American personnel fell below 2,000.

“Armed forces are being withdrawn,” James F. Jeffrey, the American special envoy for Syria, said earlier this week.“We had to reinforce initially to bring in more combat power, and now we’re going back down toward what the final number will be.”

Back in January, the founder of Blackwater now called Academi, an infamous private military company, said that American troops in Syria could be replaced with mercenaries after the planned drawdown.
Lebanese Concerned Over Fate of Shebaa Farms After Trump’s Golan Decision
Sat Mar 30, 2019 09:52AM

An Israeli army position (background) looks over a Lebanese army soldier looking through his binocular in the Kfar Shuba hills, near the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, southern Lebanon, October 8, 2014. (Photo by AP)

The US's controversial decision to recognize Israeli “sovereignty” over Syria’s occupied Golan Heights has raised concerns among Lebanese officials about the fate of Shebaa Farms which remain under occupation by the Tel Aviv regime.

Israel occupied Shebaa Farms, a small strip of land at the intersection of the Lebanese-Syrian border and the Golan Heights, during the 1967 war.

Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, but it kept control of Shebaa Farms under the pretext that the region’s ownership was undecided between Lebanon and Syria.

Tel Aviv considers Shebaa Farms part of the occupied Golan while both Damascus and Beirut say the area is Lebanese.

Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump signed a decree recognizing Israeli “sovereignty” over the occupied Golan at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The move sparked international condemnations, including from Lebanon.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said that the new US stance on Golan was a “black day for the world” and an “arbitrary action” that goes against international law.

Lebanese officials fear the US could also recognize Israel’s claim to Shebaa Farms.

A Lebanese official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told London-based Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that Shebaa Farms were not part of the Golan Heights.

"No one mentioned our land to declare its annexation to Israel. Therefore, the official Lebanese positions were limited to criticizing the move because it affects Syria and its lands. Our occupied territories were never part of Golan," he said.

However, Riad Kahwaji, head of the Dubai-based INEGMA defense consultancy, claimed that as long as Israel considers Shebaa Farms part of Golan, the US's recent decision also covers the Lebanese region.

“As long as Shebaa Farms, the Kfar Shuba Hills and the village of Ghajar are for Israel a territory belonging to Golan, most of which were occupied in 1967, the American recognition of its sovereignty over Golan automatically means its sovereignty over its territories including occupied Lebanese territories," he said. “What makes things worse is the absence of clear documents and maps that determine where Golan begins and where it ends," he added.

Meanwhile, speaking to a meeting of Arab ministers in Tunis on Friday, Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui said that his country will coordinate with its fellow Arab countries to “contain” any fallout from Trump’s provocative decision to recognize Israeli "sovereignty" over Syria’s Golan Heights.

Also on Friday, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani stressed that Tehran would resist the US's Golan move.

Trump's decision is "trampling on international regulations about the Golan," he said, adding "Iranians too should resist and that way gain victory" over the US and Israel.

In 1967, Israel waged a full-scale war against Arab territories during which it occupied a large swathe of Syria’s Golan and annexed it four years later, a move never recognized by the international community.

Syria has repeatedly reaffirmed its sovereignty over the Golan Heights, saying the territory must be completely restored to its control.
Any Resolution of Syria Conflict Must Guarantee its Territorial Integrity: UN
Sun Mar 31, 2019 02:44PM

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, left, and Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abul Gheit attend a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia, March 30, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres has stressed the importance of guaranteeing Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity in any resolution on the conflict in the Arab country.

“Any resolution of the Syrian conflict must guarantee the unity, [and] the territorial integrity of Syria, including the occupied Golan,” he said in an address to an Arab League summit in the Tunisian capital of Tunis on Sunday.

As “millions of Syrians remain displaced and in need, and tens of thousands are arbitrarily detained…we must keep working to forge a political path to a sustainable peace in which all Syrians are heard, grievances are addressed, and needs are met,” he added.

Guterres' remarks came days after US President Donald Trump broke decades of international consensus and formally recognized Israeli "sovereignty" over the occupied Golan Heights, a border area the Tel Aviv regime seized from Syria in 1967.

“This was a long time in the making. Should have taken place decades ago,” Trump said while signing the proclamation in the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump's Jewish son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, in the White House in Washington, DC.

However, a Wednesday meeting of the UN Security Council turned into another stage for the isolation of the US, as other countries on the council opposed Trump’s move on Golan.

Addressing the meeting, Syria's Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari lashed out at President Trump's recognition, describing the move as part of a “criminal project” aimed at prolonging chaos and destruction in the region.

“This is a criminal project or plan for which the US government and its allies have used all tools at their disposal,” Jaafari said, adding that the plan is aimed at guaranteeing chaos and destruction in the region, and dividing the people of the region on religious and ethnic basis in order to “build a new reality.”

Syria has repeatedly reaffirmed its sovereignty over Golan, saying the territory must be completely restored to its control.

Elsewhere in his Sunday address, the UN chief said the Middle East faces “turbulent winds” from “the wars in Yemen and Syria,” to “the rise and fall of Daesh” and "the persistent denial of the right to self-determination for the Palestinian people."

"I strongly appeal for the unity of the Arab world as a fundamental condition for peace and prosperity in the region, and to avoid leaving the region vulnerable to interference by foreign parties with destabilizing effects,” Guterres said, calling for a regional vision rooted in cooperation, respect and mutual interest.

He recognized the need to “untangle the Gordian knot of insecurity, allow no space for sectarianism, and deliver the peace, stability and effective, responsive governance that the people of the region deserve.”

Guterres further pointed to the Stockholm agreement aimed at solving the conflict in Yemen and said, “Following last December’s breakthrough in Stockholm, we continue to work closely with the parties to achieve progress towards the redeployment of forces in Hudaydah and the opening of humanitarian corridors on the way to a political solution for Yemen.”

Back in December, representatives from the Houthi Ansarullah movement and the Riyadh-sponsored government of ex-president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, reached the truce deal during UN-mediated peace talks in Sweden.

Under the deal, they agreed to the withdrawal of their troops and the deployment of UN monitors to the port city, a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.

Addressing the Arab League summit, European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said that ignoring United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Golan Heights was "not a solution."

European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini (R), addresses delegates attending the opening session of the 30th Arab League summit in the Tunisian capital of Tunis on March 31, 2019, with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres seated next to her. (Photo by AFP)
She also said a two state solution for Israel and Palestine was "the only viable and realistic solution ... we have a responsibility to prevent the two state solution from being irreversibly dismantled."

"Any future plan will have to recognize the internationally agreed parameters including on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, and the status of Jerusalem [al-Quds] as the future capital of the two states," she pointed out.

Arab League summit must send message on Palestinian state: Tunisia

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, for his part, said the Arab League summit in Tunis must send a message on the importance of establishing a Palestinian state.

He added that regional and international stability should come through "a just and comprehensive settlement that includes the rights of the Palestinian people and leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state with [East] Jerusalem [al-Quds] as its capital."
Protests Against Trump’s Declaration on Occupied Syrian Golan Continue in Syrian Provinces
31 March، 2019

Provinces, SANA- Protests on Sunday continued in several provinces against US President Donald Trump’s declaration on the occupied Syrian Golan.

The Popular and official activities of Quneitra organized protests in their gatherings in the towns and neighborhoods of Jdeidet al-Fadel, al-Dahadeel, Naher Aisha, Qudsiya, Mafraq Hejeira in Damascus and its countryside to condemn Trump’s declaration, considering it void and meaningless.

They asserted that the occupied Syrian Golan is a Syrian Arab territory and it will return to the motherland sooner or later.

In Sweida, Journalists’ Syndicate-Southern branch protested against Trump’s declaration ,gathering in front of the branch where they carried banners denouncing that declaration. They also saluted their fellow citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan.

In Deir Ezzor, people gathered at al-Saiyed al-Raees Square to denounce Trump’s declaration, stressing that it violates the international law and serves the Israeli entity.
UN Slam United States Decision to Recognize Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan Heights
Morning Star, UK

THE UN security council condemned the US on Wednesday night for its decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

Speaker after speaker at the open meeting supported Syria’s claim to the plateau and opposed Israel’s annexation of it, along with US President Donald Trump’s proclamation in Israel’s favour earlier this week.

South Africa’s UN ambassador Jerry Matjila said: “This unilateral action does nothing to assist in finding a long-term peaceful solution to the conflict in the Middle East.”

He and others pointed to multiple resolutions which have called for Israel to end its occupation of the Golan Heights, including a December 1981 security council declaration that Israel’s annexation of the area is “null and void and without international legal effect.”

Syria’s closest ally Russia urged governments to continue to view the Golan Heights as Israeli-occupied territory.

“If anybody feels any temptation to follow this poor example, we would urge them to refrain from this aggressive revision of international law,” Russia’s deputy ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 six day war and annexed it in 1981. A 1974 ceasefire agreement that officially ended the 1973 Yom Kippur war war led to the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force known as Undof in the region.

Mr Trump’s proclamation that the Golan Heights is part of Israel raised questions about the future of Undof after its mandate expires on June 30.
Three Strikes and You're Out
Morning Star, UK

May's Brexit deal is rejected for a third time as MPs demand she quits and calls a general election

THERESA MAY was told to resign and call a general election today after MPs rejected her Brexit plan for a third time.

The Commons voted down the EU Withdrawal Agreement by 344 votes to 286, a majority of 58.

They did not vote on the Political Declaration, as the government chose to separate it from the agreement in a bid to circumvent parliamentary rules barring Ms May from presenting the proposals for a third vote unless they were substantially different from what had been rejected before.

After the result was announced, Ms May finally conceded that a general election could be on the horizon, saying she feared that “we are reaching the limits of this process in this house.”

Outside Parliament, thousands of Brexit supporters held a demonstration to mark it being the day Britain was originally due to leave the European Union.

A separate Ukip rally was staged with far-right preacher Tommy Robinson and Ukip chief Gerard Batten on Whitehall, prompting a Stand Up to Racism counter-protest.

Some 34 Conservative rebels ignored Ms May’s last-ditch plea to take “the last opportunity to guarantee Brexit” and voted against her agreement, thus helping to inflict a third humiliating defeat on their party leader.

Only five Labour MPs voted for the deal – Kevin Barron, Rosie Cooper, Jim Fitzpatrick, Caroline Flint and John Mann. Independent former Labour MPs Frank Field and Ian Austin also voted in favour.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for a general election unless Ms May was willing to seek a cross-party alternative deal, which he had previously said should include a customs union with the EU.

He told MPs: “The house has been clear this deal now has to change. There has to be an alternative found.

“And if the Prime Minister can’t accept that then she must go – not at an indeterminate date in the future but now, so that we can decide the future of this country through a general election.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said that a general election or second referendum should be called on the government’s “absolutely dead” deal.

He said: “The Prime Minister has absolutely no credibility. We should put this back to the people.”

Steve Baker, deputy chair of the European Research Group of Tory Brexiteers, called on her to step down since her deal had already been rejected twice – by 230 votes in January and 149 in March.

Ms May had previously promised that she would quit if MPs approved her deal in order to allow another Tory to lead the next stage of EU negotiations.

With a majority in the Commons against a no-deal Brexit and with MPs seizing control of the parliamentary agenda on Monday for the second time, Ms May said that there would have to be “an alternative way forward.”

This was “almost certain” to involve having to stage elections to the European Parliament in May, she also said.

The result means that Britain has missed an EU deadline to secure an extension of the Brexit process and leave with a deal on May 22.

Ms May now has until April 12 to go back to Brussels with new proposals and seek a longer extension to the negotiation process, or Britain will leave without a deal on that day.

Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King said the country should be given six months to prepare to leave the EU with no deal.

“MPs have rather somehow lost the plot when we hear of people talking about the consequences of leaving without a deal as national suicide,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

European Council president Donald Tusk called an emergency summit on April 10 to discuss the implications of the vote.