HomePoliticsBriefingDon’t look away

Don’t look away

Palestinian pack their belongings as they prepare to flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 13, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas militant group. (Photo by AFP)

Israel orders Palestinians to evacuate from more areas of Gaza’s Rafah, Biden warns US weapons’ deliveries will halt in case of a ground invasion, UN General Assembly backs Palestinian bid for membership, Lebanon Parliament convened to attend a general debate on the 1-billion-European aid, Ongoing strikes in south Lebanon prepare for a ‘hot summer’, FPM demonstrators call for the repatriation of displaced Syrians in Lebanon, Israel bans Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera in its territories, New report by Human Rights Watch unveils atrocities committed by Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces in West Darfur, Syria’s new Ministry of Information focuses on monitoring and regulating technical and media production, UNHCR to halve its support for refugee health coverage in Lebanon, General Security raided and sealed businesses run by unauthorised Syrians in Akkar, The cross-border fighting has cost Lebanon at least 1.5-billion dollar dollars in losses so far, Comedian Shaden Fakih accused of blasphemy by Dar al-Fatwa, More arrests in the case of Lebanon’s TikTok paedophile ring, Gas supplier and restaurant’s owner and manager charged for the deaths of nine people in Beirut fire, Iraq criminalises homosexual relationships with maximum 15 years in prison, death toll from Afghanistan floods on the rise

“We’ve shown Gaza’s suffering for over 200 days. Don’t look away now,” wrote the Palestinian correspondent Mohammed R. Mhawish, from Gaza, for the Israeli independent channel +972. “Palestinians have been the sole journalists persistently reporting from the ground in Gaza. Yet it feels that the world is losing interest in our stories.”

On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, on May 3, Palestinian journalists covering Gaza have been named as laureates of the 2024 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, following the recommendation of an International Jury of media professionals. Between May 2 and 4 this year, Chile hosted the 31st World Press Freedom Day Conference, dedicated to the importance of journalism and freedom of expression in the current global environmental crisis. 

The expectable results’ reason was read by Mauricio Weibel, Chair of the International Jury of Media Professionals: “In these times of darkness and hopelessness, we wish to share a strong message of solidarity and recognition to those Palestinian journalists who are covering this crisis in such dramatic circumstances. As humanity, we owe a huge debt to their courage and commitment to freedom of expression.”

Yet, the losses that Palestinians have suffered – and are still counting – over the past seven months are immeasurable, reflecting not just homes and livelihoods, but also the dreams and aspirations of entire generations. And despite Israeli military and government officials promising an imminent incursion into the overcrowded city of Rafah, which is now home to nearly two-thirds of Gaza’s population – it seems the world’s attention is turning away, growing increasingly indifferent to the unfolding of yet another catastrophe. “It is painful to see how our identity has condemned us to disproportionate suffering and being treated as less than human by those beyond our borders,” Mhawish wrote.

“Over seven agonizing months of bloodshed and despair, I have seen our quest for freedom and for an end to this madness tragically misrepresented in Western media coverage as ‘support for terror.’ Our voices have been silenced, while every assault on our lives and bodies is cynically justified by Israeli leaders in the name of security.” And he added, claiming that for Palestinian journalists reporting on the war in Gaza isn’t just a job – but a national duty in the face of overwhelming odds,  that “faced with such overwhelming trauma and suffering, the priority for many journalists, myself included, has been to escape Gaza and simply survive. But when our cameras are shattered, there’s no one left to capture the brutal reality of Israel’s aggression against a vulnerable population. And when our voices are silenced, no one can hear our cries for help.”

Silencing the outcry

The Israeli government wants Palestinians to be voiceless. Not only has it continued to forbid foreign journalists from entering and reporting inside the Strip, but it also recently decided to close the activities and confiscate the equipment – including cell phones and computers of journalists, editors and staff members – of Al Jazeera, accused of being the megaphone of Hamas and of instigating violence against the Jewish state. The ban renewal will be evaluated 45 days after the decision, rejected by the channel which defined the shutdown imposed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as a criminal act.

Yet it was not a sudden decision: for weeks there had been talk of a possible closure of Al Jazeera in Israel. Last month, on April 2, the Knesset passed a law to ban foreign broadcasters that “harm state security.” Therefore, the decision on the Qatar-financed channel has to be seen as nothing more than the latest update of a system of media repression that already existed, and which is just being implemented under the post-October 7 securitarian hysteria of the state of Israel – along with the increased threats directly addressed to Palestinian journalists. “The Israeli army repeatedly texted and called my phone in an attempt to coerce me to stop writing and to abandon my journalistic responsibilities. It was tempting to prioritize my safety, but I couldn’t ignore the oppressive conditions my people are facing. If Palestinian journalists were to stop doing our job, who would fill the void?” Mhawish wondered in his piece, denouncing the proclaimed neutrality of mainstream media as nothing but an ambiguously indirected way of siding with the oppressor while witnessing the oppressed get killed on live broadcasts, their deaths unjustly rationalized under the flimsy pretext of the powerful right to ‘self-defense.’ As long as the notion of ‘neutrality’ reigns supreme, legitimized the suffocation of Palestinian voices, their suffering and dismissed humanity is condemned to fall on deaf ears.

Seeking accountability

In the index published by Reporters Without Borders on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Israel fell four places in a year, coming in 101st place out of 180. In its presentation of the country, the NGO noted that “the Israeli media landscape has been marked by the formation of a new government at the end of 2022, led by a conservative political current,” and that, after October 7, the Israeli government’s pressure on journalists has grown and disinformation campaigns and repressive laws have multiplied. In addition, the annual prison census published in January by the Committee to Protect Journalists had already warned that for the first time Israel appeared among the six countries with the highest number of detained journalists – 17, like Iran, and all Palestinians – behind China (44), Myanmar (43), Belarus (28), Russia (22) and Vietnam (19). Other journalists, the Committee reported, were arrested and then released.

In 200 days, Israel has killed 142 journalists in Gaza – two of whom worked for Al Jazeera: approximately one every 36 hours. The staggering death toll makes the war the deadliest conflict for journalists in modern history. However, on the second anniversary of May 11 – the day when renowned Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot to death by Israeli forces while reporting in Jenin, occupied West Bank – activists say the case of the murder of a United States citizen, a journalist dressed in a blue vest marked with the word ‘press,’ and the lack of accountability that followed, underscores the fact that Israel has been killing journalists with impunity long before the current genocide – paving the way for the rampant Israeli abuses taking place in Gaza today.

Immediately after Abu Akleh’s shooting, the administration of US President Joe Biden called for accountability, saying that “those responsible for Shireen’s killing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Soon, however, Washington shifted its position after Israel admitted that its soldiers killed Abu Akleh and dismissed the incident as an accident, refusing to open a criminal investigation. By September 2022, the US dropped its demand that the perpetrators be prosecuted. Accountability, officials said, could instead be accomplished by Israel changing its rules of engagement – a demand that was openly rejected by Israeli leaders. Washington has also rejected calls for an independent probe into the incident, arguing that Israel has functioning institutions capable of investigating the case – despite Palestinian rights advocates having long said that Israel rarely prosecutes its own soldiers for abuses and should not be trusted to investigate itself.

Even when Al Jazeera referred the Abu Akleh case to the International Criminal Court for investigation, the US publicly opposed the court’s involvement, reiterating its stance that Israel should take up the matter itself. The Biden administration also failed to condemn the Israeli assault on Abu Akleh’s funeral in Jerusalem, wherein armed officers beat her pallbearers with batons, as well as the destruction of the late journalist’s memorial, located at the entrance to the Jenin refugee camp where she was killed.

Beyond Israel

What we need is not more talk, more negotiations, more hollow words and gestures: we need sustained grassroots action all over the world, as well as politicians and policymakers who are willing to confront the reality of Palestine’s genocide and to hold Israel and its enablers accountable for their atrocities. Not only on Palestinians – whose enduring state of oppression has persisted throughout their existence, infringing upon every fundamental right to live in safety and freedom, being in effect not for 200 days, but for 75 years. 

In Syria, a new law issued by President Bashar Al-Assad established a new Ministry of Information according to new tasks focused on monitoring and regulating technical and media production, introducing foundations and controls to regulate the media sector, as well as communicating with Arab and foreign media to convey Syria’s policies to the global public opinion. No journalist has taken part in the discussion of the bill before its publication – subject to amendments by which some materials that referred to the independence of the media were deleted.

In Sudan, the press has also become a target. Journalists have marked World Press Freedom Day trapped in a brutal, year-long conflict with no ceasefire in sight. Despite local, regional, and international efforts, entrenched positions by the military and Rapid Support Forces prolong the suffering and threaten a full-blown humanitarian crisis, as repeatedly warned, and furtherly stressed by a joint statement by the Sudan Media Forum. Journalists, both men and women, face systematic violence—killings, destruction of media houses, censorship, and illegal occupations— trapping Sudanese in a media blackout that prevents them from reporting, informing the public, and upholding press freedom. Both sides of the civil war waged a war on the media, alarmingly spreading propaganda and misinformation to manipulate public opinion. Communication networks are disrupted, further isolating citizens and hindering their ability to access not only ai, but also information.


In Lebanon

Mass evictions: On Thursday, May 9, Lebanon’s General Security raided and sealed businesses run by Syrians without proper authorization in Akkar, North Lebanon, after several Syrians were evicted from their homes in the region during the previous week following the state’s claim that they were residing there illegally. The crackdowns come amid new restrictions targeting Syrians in Lebanon restricting their access to housing, work and official documents as the government sets plans for mass deportations. 

A day earlier, on May 8, the security agency announced it was organizing new repatriation trips and ordered Syrians who entered Lebanon clandestinely to apply for entry authorization at border centers and to then leave the country while they await the processing of their requests. Reacting to the recent measures taken by General Security, the President of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) denounced “a very dangerous extremist escalation.”

Since last April, the government has instructed municipalities to enforce greater restrictions on Syrians, beginning with making registration with local officials mandatory to access housing, work and official documents. At the local level, municipalities have also imposed their own restrictions on Syrians ranging from bans on gatherings and curfews to evictions and crackdowns on Syrian-run businesses or their own preconditions to access housing and work.

In collaboration with the Sheikh Platform, the CLDH has recently published a report entitled “The return of displaced persons is necessary, a press report promoting hatred against Syrians” – after training information verification mechanisms and their tools in the context of human rights issues, as well as “The National Campaign to Confront Syrian Resettlement, an account promoting hate speech against Syrians” – monitoring the X account created in September 2011 which has been addressing the issue of displaced Syrians in Lebanon at all levels in a provocative manner that has sparked divisions, using racist, inflammatory language.

‘To the Lebanese’: On the same day, May 9, hundreds of people joined a Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) demonstration in downtown Beirut’s Gibran Khalil Gibran square, calling for the repatriation of displaced Syrians in Lebanon. 

Protesters also opposed a European Union aid package for Lebanon announced last week, interpreted by party chief Gebran Bassil as a bribe for Lebanon to continue hosting Syrians displaced by the more than decade-long civil war – a claim rejected by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. 

The FPM, led by Gebran Bassil, has been increasingly outspoken about the presence of Syrians in Lebanon since the murder of Lebanese Forces official Pascal Sleiman, who, according to the Lebanese Army, was killed by a gang of Syrian and Lebanese criminals in April for economic reasons. Approximately 500 people gathered on Thursday, waving Lebanese and FPM party flags and chanting slogans, such as ‘Lebanon to the Lebanese, not to another people,’ ‘Lebanon is not for sale’ and ‘I am Lebanese on my land, I don’t want another people.’

Non-sustainable: Also Thursday, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed a reduction announced last week in its expenditure on covering medical care for Syrian refugees identified on its registers, starting in June. A delegation chaired by the organization’s representative in Lebanon informed the country’s outgoing Health Minister of the decision, according to the Ministry.

The drastic decision was due to reduced global funding, as the Lebanese Ministry announced the news during a visit to Beirut by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The politician promised the Lebanese government 1 billion euros in aid over the next three years to help ease the financial crisis and the country’s demographic pressure.

The Lebanese Ministry said the difference in medical expenses will be directly covered by Syrian refugees from now on. Public healthcare in Lebanon has been near collapse for decades and private insurance companies have proliferated in the country. However, not all sectors of society can afford private insurance – Syrian refugees in particular.

In March, the UNHCR put the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon at 779,645, although the UN agency stopped registering Syrian refugees in Lebanon in May 2015, at the request of the Lebanese authorities. 

Aid or bribe: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is convening the Members of Parliament to attend a general debate on Wednesday, May 15, on the thorny issue of 1 billion euros in European aid. Several parties perceive the envelope as a ‘bribe’ to push Lebanon to keep Syrian refugees and migrants on its soil. This prompted Mikati to call for a meeting, in a bid to send the issue back to Parliament – which will be convened, fully, despite the presidential vacuum. 

Also the most radical Christian opposition parties will take part in the debate. The Free Patriotic Movement’s MP Cesar Abi Khalil told reporters, when asked about his party’s position, that “the Strong Lebanon bloc will meet on the eve of the session to take an official decision.”  After organizing a rally on Thursday afternoon in front of the EU mission in Beirut to express its “refusal of all external attempts to liquidate the dossier of refugees and migrants on Lebanese territory,” as the party said the on X, the FPM started a tour on Tuesday including meetings with the poles of power and several ambassadors concerned by the issue. On Wednesday, the FPM presented an urgent draft law “to repatriate Syrians residing illegally in Lebanon,” MP Nada Boustani said.

After having boycotted all parliamentary sessions held during the presidential void, except the one devoted to extending the term of office of Lebanese Army Chief Joseph Aoun on December 15, Lebanese Forces’ Samir Geagea will make another exception. Its participation was anticipated by the party which, since the murder of its coordinator for Jbeil Pascal Sleiman in April – which the official investigation blamed on Syrian nationals – has made the issue of migrants and refugees a priority. 

As the Lebanese Forces, the Kataeb will be exceptionally present in parliament on May 15. But the rest of the MPs from the opposition have yet to make a final decision. 

The amount of damage: Material damages to buildings and infrastructure caused by Israeli bombardments in south Lebanon since October 8 have surpassed 1.5 billion dollars, according to the Southern Council’s ground assessment and consultations, with 1,700 buildings destroyed and 14,000 damaged, AFP reported. Roads and water, electricity and health services infrastructure have suffered 500 million dollars in damages, while the destruction to residential buildings means that many of the over 90,000 people displaced from the region will not have homes to return to. 

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in March denied press rumors of a 46 million dollars compensation plan, which allegedly allotted 40,000 per destroyed residential unit – while the Lebanese Forces said such payments should be expensed to Hezbollah, at the forefront of the clashes with Israel. Hezbollah, during a weeklong reprieve in fighting concomitant with a truce in Gaza, said it began surveying damages and dispensing payments to affected families. 

Israel’s attacks on the region have also had an economic toll by devastating southern Lebanon’s agriculture – which provides 80 percent of its GDP, by the UNDP’s estimate – and which caretaker Prime Minister Mikati previously described as an “agricultural disaster”. Israeli projectiles had scorched 800 hectares, killed 34,000 heads of livestock and deprived three-quarters of the region’s farmers from their last source of income. Lebanese think tank the Policy Initiative in February estimated that Israeli strikes, in addition to their direct material costs, cost Lebanon hundreds of millions of dollars by interrupting exports from crops primarily grown in southern Lebanon, turning away visitors to Lebanon and stifling foreign investment.

BlomInvest’s Purchasing Managers’ Index for April, meanwhile, hit a four-month low – gauging further deterioration to business activity as proxied by private businesses’ new orders, output, employment, suppliers’ delivery time and stocks of purchases – driven by reduced sales and demand due to the war and regional instability. 

Towards a hot summer: While across the border in Lebanon some 90,000 people have been displaced by Israeli strikes, the displacement of some 60,000 residents of northern Israel has prompted calls within Israel for firmer military action against Hezbollah. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, speaking to troops during a visit to northern Israel, said the mission was not complete. “This summer may be a hot summer,” he said in a video message issued by his office, as reported by Reuters.

Gallant said that either a diplomatic agreement or a military solution was needed for residents of Israel’s northern communities to be able to return home safely, and Israel’s armed forces should be ready – after the Israeli military said in April it had completed another step in preparing for possible war with Hezbollah that centered on logistics, including preparations for a broad mobilization of reservists.

More than 250 Hezbollah members and 75 civilians – including children, medics and journalists – have been killed in Israeli strikes on Lebanon since October, sources in Lebanon say. An Israeli strike on Tayr Harfa, Sour, on Friday killed a Lebanese technician contracted by a telecoms company to fix a phone tower, Lebanon’s telecoms minister told Reuters, as well as a Risala scout first responder.

In Israel, some 20 people – including soldiers and civilians – have been killed, marking the worst hostilities between the Shiite group and the Zionist state since they went to war in 2006. Hezbollah has repeatedly said that it will cease fire when the Israeli offensive in Gaza stops, but that it is also ready to fight on if Israel continues to attack Lebanon.

Blasphemic: Lebanon’s top Sunni authority Dar al-Fatwa lodged a complaint against comedian Shaden Fakih for alleged blasphemy and “provoking religious and sectarian tensions and undermining national cohesion” regarding a recording from a performance in Beirut. Fakih was unreachable at the moment and is currently touring in Canada. Islamist lawmaker Imad Hout also filed a complaint against her, the National News Agency (NNA) said.

Previously, the Internal Security Forces had summoned Fakih over a comedy sketch in which she requested menstrual pads from police officers during the pandemic – causing the mobilization of rights activists, who expressed outrage that Fakih was being threatened with prosecution for simply expressing her opinions. “The idea that someone could be arrested, harassed and subjected to death threats just for expressing views that may contradict certain societal norms is unacceptable,” said Jad Shahrour of Beirut’s Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom.

Last year, Dar al-Fatwa filed a complaint against comedian Nour Hajjar for a joke he made five years earlier, triggering an 11-hour investigation by the military police. Following this, he was released amidst a gathering of dozens of supporters, including Shaden Fakih, who voiced concerns about the declining state of freedom of expression in Lebanon.

The TikTok pedophile ring: A woman implicated in the case of a pedophile network operating in Lebanon via the social network TikTok was arrested on a search warrant on Friday night, bringing the number of suspects arrested to date to 11. A well-known blogger on social networks was responsible for ‘seducing’ the victims before handing them over to the network. 

Details of the pedophile ring, in which some 30 people are said to be involved, began to come to light last Wednesday, when local media reported on the case, following the decision of the parents of eight children, more than a month ago, to lodge child abuse allegations with the Public Prosecutor’s Office against one of the suspects. The head of the cybercrime unit of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), Patrick Obeid, then began investigating the case with the minors and their families.

Among those arrested are a well-known TikTok hairdresser and clothing retailer, a dentist, a photographer, a man who transferred funds between gang members, a cab driver and three minors. According to several Lebanese media outlets, the main suspect is George Moubayed, “who allegedly belongs to a gang of drug traffickers and child rapists,” said local TV station al-Jadeed. Reports have also said that the suspects have documented the acts of rape, then made the victims watch the videos, and blackmailed them, threatening to post the footage online if they spoke out. They also blackmailed them to get the minors to come back and bring their friends.

Other suspects are believed to be abroad, prompting Tanios Sahgbini, public prosecutor at the Mount Lebanon Court of Appeal, to send rogatory letters to the countries in which they are believed to be located, with a view to obtaining mutual legal assistance. He also issued two arrest warrants, via Interpol, for two suspects: one in Dubai and the other in Sweden.

This incident has led Lebanese people to push the government to take serious actions towards banning TikTok in Lebanon. At the same time, the Beirut Bar Association urged its members to refrain from using the application.

Culprit: Beirut’s Deputy Public Prosecutor charged gas supplier NatGaz and both Pizza Secrets’ owner and manager for the deaths of nine people in a restaurant fire on Tuesday, April 30. The nine people, all employees of the place, died of suffocation after having been trapped in the back of the restaurant as the yet-unexplained fire raged and their only exit blocked. 

Beirut MP Paula Yacoubian underscored a lack of attention to public safety, joining caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi and Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud in calling for a criminal investigation of the incident. “The restaurant was newly opened. There is no excuse for it not having [an emergency] exit,” a Civil Defense member told the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour. Pizza Secrets is located in Bechara El-Khoury Street, a busy thoroughfare into the center of Beirut, and in the same building as the Ministry of Finance’s import division.

Speaking from the scene, Tourism Minister Walid Nassar described the gas leak as “a tragedy, which brings to the forefront the need to [strengthen] the conditions of public safety”. “It’s a crime scene, public safety is never taken seriously in this country,” Beirut MP Paula Yacoubian told reporters outside the restaurant.


In The Region 

Overwhelmingly: On Friday, May 10, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a Palestinian bid to become a full UN member by recognizing it as qualified to join and recommending the UN Security Council “reconsider the matter favorably.” The vote by the 193-member General Assembly represented a crucial move that would effectively recognize a Palestinian state – after the United States vetoed it in the Council last month.

The assembly adopted a resolution with 143 votes in favor and nine against – including the US and Israel – while 25 countries abstained. It does not give the Palestinians full UN membership, but simply recognizes them as qualified to join. The push comes seven months into the genocide on Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the occupied West Bank, which the UN considers to be illegal.

“We want peace, we want freedom,” Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour told the assembly before the vote. “A yes vote is a vote for Palestinian existence, it is not against any state. It is an investment in peace.” Under the founding UN Charter, membership is open to “peace-loving states” that accept the obligations in that document and are able and willing to carry them out.

“As long as so many of you are ‘Jew-hating,’ you don’t really care that the Palestinians are not ‘peace-loving’,” Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, who spoke after Mansour, told his fellow diplomats. He accused the assembly of shredding the UN Charter – as he used a small shredder to destroy a copy of the Charter while at the lectern. “Shame on you,” Erdan said.

An application to become a full UN member first needs to be approved by the 15-member Security Council and then the General Assembly. If the measure is again voted on by the Council, though, it is likely to face the same fate: a US veto.

Nevertheless, the General Assembly resolution adopted on Friday does give the Palestinians some additional rights and privileges from September 2024 – like a seat among the UN members in the assembly hall – but they will not be granted a vote in the body. The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a de facto recognition of statehood that was granted by the General Assembly in 2012.

Shut down: Since Sunday, May 5, on the satellite channel to which Israelis tuned in to watch Al Jazeera news, a writing appears on a black background: “In accordance with the government’s decision, the broadcasts of the Al Jazeera broadcaster have been interrupted in Israel.” On the same day, police raided the rooms of a hotel in East Jerusalem where the network had its office, dismantling and confiscating equipment. The last report broadcast from that office is a pre-recorded message read by correspondent Imran Khan: “If you are watching this report then Al Jazeera has been banned in the territory of Israel.” For the moment, broadcasts in the country remain accessible via the website and social networks.

The decision taken by the Israeli government unanimously is valid for 45 days, renewable several times. It is based on a law passed on April 1 that gives the executive the power to “temporarily” block foreign broadcasters considered a risk to national security. In a statement, Al Jazeera strongly condemned what it defined as a “criminal act” that violates “human rights and the fundamental right of access to information.”

Israel has always had tense relations with the Qatari broadcaster, accused of having anti-Israeli bias. Tensions reached a peak in May 2022, following the killing of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank. After the Hamas attacks in Israel on October 7, 2023, and the start of the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, Al Jazeera remained one of the few international media outlets to cover the conflict, documenting the Israeli bombings and massacres – while Tel Aviv accused it of collaborating with Hamas.

Rafah and the negotiations: Several analysts have underlined that the closure of the broadcaster risks exacerbating tensions with Qatar at a time when the Gulf country is playing a fundamental role in the ongoing negotiations to stop the war in Gaza. On May 6, Hamas announced that it had informed Doha and Egypt, the other mediator country together with the United States, which had approved their proposal for a ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip. The proposal, which includes three phases, should have led to the end of the Israeli offensive in Palestinian territory and the release of Israeli hostages in the hands of Hamas in exchange for the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Thousands of people took to the streets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities in Israel to demand that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government accept the terms of the ceasefire.

Israel has decided to send its delegation to Cairo, while continuing operations in Rafah, the city in the south of the Gaza Strip where 1.2 million people have taken refuge, half the territory’s population. Talks resumed on May 8 in the presence of Israeli and Hamas representatives, together with mediators from Qatar, Egypt and the United States. On the same day, a senior US official said that last week Washington suspended the delivery of a shipment of bombs to Israel due to the Tel Aviv government’s failure to respond to fears expressed about the planned ground operation in Rafah. The United States maintains that it cannot support the operation in the absence of a credible plan to protect civilians.

However, the Israeli army and officials insist on launching a ground operation in Rafah to eliminate the last Hamas battalions. On May 7, the army took control of the border crossing between Rafah and Egypt, cutting off access to humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip. The day before, it had begun moving tens of thousands of Palestinian families from the eastern part of the city to launch what it called a ‘limited operation’ in the area. The people were directed towards the Al-Mawasi area, about ten kilometres from Rafah, which, however, according to humanitarian organizations, is already overpopulated and destroyed. The bombings during the night killed at least 27 people, bringing the overall toll since the start of the military offensive to over 35,000 Palestinian deaths.

Ongoing Nakba: More than 100,000 people have fled Rafah in recent days, the United Nations said Friday, with the southern Gaza city under threat of a full-scale Israeli ground invasion. Israel’s military called for Gazans to leave eastern Rafah, which triggered widespread international alarm. The UN children’s agency UNICEF said more than 100,000 had left, with other rights groups putting the figure at more than 300,000.

Georgios Petropoulos, head of Un humanitarian agency OCHA’s sub-office in Gaza, said the situation in the besieged Palestinian territory had reached “even more unprecedented levels of emergency.” “The recent evacuation order that we had from the government of Israel linked to the military operation in Rafah is now counting 110,000-plus displaced people having to move north,” he told a briefing in Geneva, via video-link from Rafah. “Most of these are people who have had to displace five or six times.” Moreover, the Israeli military also called on residents and displaced people in the Jabalia area of northern Gaza to clear out, saying it was returning to operate there after it noticed Hamas trying to re-establish its control of the area.

President Biden turned up the pressure on Israel to limit its Rafah operation and to reach a cease-fire deal with Hamas. He made it public that he’d held up a delivery of heavy bombs to Israel, and dispatched his CIA chief to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The US announced it had withheld the delivery of some military aid to Israel last week over concerns they would be used in a possible full-scale assault on Rafah. Israel, however, downplayed the pause of the arms deliveries – which included 2,000-pound bombs, among the most destructive in Israel’s arsenal. 

But experts said the pause showed that the bond is facing new strains, with more ruptures possibly to come amid declining American public support for the Israeli war effort. They also acknowledged that such disagreements were unlikely to change the course of the conflict. Biden has made it clear that he remains deeply committed to Israel, even as he has signaled that there are limits to US aid and patience.

The Massalit will not come home: In war-torn Sudan, attacks by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias in El-Geneina, the capital city of Sudan’s West Darfur state, from April to November 2023, killed at least thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands as refugees, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Thursday, May 9. “The crimes against humanity and widespread war crimes were committed in the context of an ethnic cleansing campaign against the ethnic Massalit and other non-Arab populations in and around El-Geneina,” the report reads.

The 218-page report, ‘The Massalit Will Not Come Home: Ethnic Cleansing and Crimes Against Humanity in El-Geneina, West Darfur, Sudan,’ documented that the RSF, an independent military force in armed conflict with the Sudan military, and their allied mainly Arab militias, including the armed group Third-Front Tamazuj, targeted the predominantly Massalit neighborhoods of El-Geneina in relentless waves of attacks from April to June. Abuses escalated again in early November. The attackers committed other serious abuses such as torture, rape, and looting. More than half a million refugees from West Darfur have fled to Chad since April 2023: as of late October 2023, 75 percent were from El-Geneina.

Targeting the Massalit people and other non-Arab communities by committing serious violations against them with the apparent objective of at least having them permanently leave the region constitutes ethnic cleansing. The particular context in which the widespread killings took place also raises the possibility that the RSF and their allies have the intent to destroy in whole or in part the Massalit in at least West Darfur, which would indicate that genocide has been or is being committed there.

As the UN Security Council and governments wake up to the looming disaster in El-Fasher, Darfur’s largest humanitarian hub, where recent tensions have prevented the access of humanitarian aid, “the large-scale atrocities committed in El-Geneina should be seen as a reminder of the atrocities that could come in the absence of concerted action,” said Tirana Hassan, executive director at HRW, calling for governments, the African Union, and the United Nations to quickly act for the protection of civilians.

Under strict control: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad issued law No. 19 for 2024, which establishes a new Ministry of Information cancelling the old law relied on when this Ministry was established, in the mid-1980s, and re-establishing it according to new tasks focused on monitoring and regulating technical and media production. The decree, the text of which was published by the official Syrian News Agency (SANA), states in Article 4 that the Ministry’s tasks include establishing foundations and controls to regulate the media sector and enhance fair competition within it, along with its supervision.

The Ministry’s responsibilities will also include cooperating and participating in both the public and private sectors to invest in the media sector and the production of drama and documentaries, in accordance with the effective laws and regulations, as well as communicating with Arab and foreign media to convey Syria’s policies to the global public opinion, and signing cooperation agreements and memorandums in media related fields. Additionally, it is the Ministry’s new responsibility to license and accredit media outlets, regulate the work of publishing houses and media training centers and service companies, and grant them the necessary licenses. It also gives the Ministry extensive powers to “supervision and monitoring media and television production in Syria, including drama series.”

The independent Syrian media organization Enab Baladi previously prepared a report titled “Al-Assad resets media threads in Syria,” discussing the feasibility and possible purpose of this step on the reality of media work in Syria, amidst the multiplicity of platforms for transferring media content through unofficial gateways. Before its enactment, the bill was subjected to amendments by which some materials that refer to the independence of the media were deleted. 

In fact, before its publication, the bill received criticism from some journalists working in areas under the regime’s control, who affirmed that “the journalism did not participate in any of the discussions about the bill before its publication,” considering the new law “a new way to restrict press freedoms in the country.” 

Criminalized by law: Iraq’s Parliament has recently passed a law criminalizing same-sex relationships with a maximum 15-year prison sentence, in a move it said aimed to uphold religious values, but was condemned by rights advocates as the latest attack on the LGBTQ community in the country. The law – backed mainly by conservative Shia Muslim parties who form the largest coalition in Iraq’s Parliament – aims to “protect Iraqi society from moral depravity and the calls for homosexuality that have overtaken the world,” according to a copy of the law seen by the Reuters news agency and reported by Al Jazeera.

The Law on Combating Prostitution and Homosexuality bans same-sex relations with at least 10 years and a maximum of 15 years in prison, and mandates at least seven years in prison for anybody who promotes homosexuality or prostitution, making “biological sex change based on personal desire and inclination” a crime and punishes transgender people and doctors who perform gender-affirming surgery with up to three years in prison. The bill had initially included the death penalty for same-sex acts but was amended before being passed after strong opposition from the United States and European nations.

Until the law passed, Iraq did not explicitly criminalize homosexuality, though loosely defined morality clauses in its penal code had been used to target LGBTQ people, and members of the community have also been killed by armed groups and individuals. Major Iraqi parties have in the past year stepped up criticism of LGBTQ rights, with rainbow flags frequently being burned in protests by both government and opposition conservative Shia Muslim factions last year.

“Iraq has effectively codified in law the discrimination and violence members of the LGBTI community have been subjected to with absolute impunity for years,” the AFP news agency quoted Amnesty International’s Iraq Researcher Razaw Salihy as saying. “The amendments concerning LGBTI rights are a violation of fundamental human rights and put at risk Iraqis whose lives are already hounded daily,” Salihy added.

Deadly flood: Afghanistan’s Taliban-run Ministry for Refugees said on Sunday the death toll from flooding in northern Afghanistan was 315 with more than 1,600 people injured, Reuters reported. The Ministry, in a post on social media platform X, cited figures from its provincial office in northern Baghlan province. Thousands of homes have been damaged and livestock wiped out, along with health care facilities and vital infrastructure like water.

Afghanistan is prone to natural disasters and is considered by the United Nations to be one of countries most vulnerable to climate change. Moreover, the country has faced an aid shortfall after the Taliban took over as foreign forces withdrew in 2021, and development aid that formed the backbone of government finances was cut. That has worsened in subsequent years as foreign governments face global competing crises and due to condemnation of Taliban restrictions on Afghan women from aid work.

The Taliban’s Economy Minister, Din Mohammad Hanif, called in a statement on Sunday on the UN, humanitarian agencies and private business to provide support to those affected by the floods.


What We’re Reading

Violating measures: Conflicting signals are being sent by the Central Bank of Lebanon (BDL)’s acting governor, Wissam Mansouri, on the role of the BDL in solving the current monetary situation and the debacle of bank depositors, as well as its understanding of the Code of Money and Credit. Exploring the intricate issue, NOW’s economist Maan Barazy questioned the regulation of money, the BDL’s role and functions, the banks’ activities, and their numerous violations of the Code’s articles.

No money no home: The cost of living in Lebanon, particularly in urban areas like Beirut, has risen sharply in recent years, making it difficult for many people to find affordable housing. Tackling this topic, along with the lack of rent control measures, NOW’s Rodayna Raydan wrote about the sad issue of Lebanon’s rising homelessness.

May is still dark: Political psychologist Ramzi Abou Ismail commented for NOW how, by exposing the deep vulnerabilities within the country’s security architecture, the events of May 2008 remind Lebanon – sixteen years later – how quickly peace could unravel when the balance of power is disturbed.

The law of fortune: After interviewing a migrant domestic worker from Madagascar in Beirut, Valeria Rando wrote, for NOW, an analysis on the modern slavery system of kafala, denouncing the denied rights of thousands of women trapped in a system too hard to change – despite the efforts of numerous rights organizations. 


Lebanon +

In the latest episode of their podcast, Makdisi Street, the Makdisi brothers welcomed research fellow at the Exeter University’s Centre for Gulf Studies, Elham Fakhro, to discuss the shifting patterns of relations between the states of the Arab Gulf and the established metropoles of the Arab world, the interplay of education and political transformation, the trend towards normalization with Israel and recent developments in attitudes towards and relationships with Iran.