HomePoliticsBriefingDying of negligence

Dying of negligence

People gather as an ambulance arrives at the scene where an Israeli drone shot two guided missiles at a building in Kfar Rumman near south Lebanon's town of Nabatiyeh on February 22, 2024. The Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its arch-foe Israel have been exchanging near-daily fire across the border since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7. (Photo by Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

Increasing Israeli attacks in south Lebanon causing significant civilian casualties, Lebanese government failing people living in buildings at risk of collapse, Two Lebanese men detained in Cyprus for smuggling 146 Syrian refugees by boat, Mikati postpones Cabinet session amid ongoing street tensions, Gaza ceasefire talks underway in Paris as air strikes continue, Netanyahu’s plan for the war’s day after, Israel’s far-right ministers demand the construction of more colonial settlements in the occupied West Bank, Algeria-drafted UN Security Council resolution for ceasefire in Gaza vetoed by the US, Egypt signs $35 billion deal with UAE for Ras al-Hekma area, Turkey to provide maritime security support to Somalia in unprecedented deal, HRW reports Houthis recruiting more child soldiers since October 7, Horrific violations and abuses as fighting spreads in Sudan, Jamal Hajjar nominated acting General Prosecutor at the Lebanese Court of Cassation, AUB roundtable discusses the need to reform Lebanon’s judicial sector

It is not clear whether it is a modern mise-en-scène of the myth of Sisyphus or that of Atlas. What is certain is that the arms of four innocent people could not support the weight of the boulder-world; that it ended in tragedy; and that the titanic protagonists were all of Syrian nationality.

With the medias’ eye now annihilated by the sight of bodies pulled from the rubble of destroyed buildings, it seems that the deaths of four more people will not make a difference in the ever-increasing toll of massacres’ victims. This time, however, in Choueifat, a few kilometers south of Beirut, it was not the weight of yet another Israeli bombing that caused a three-story edifice to collapse on itself, swallowing up its residents: but the unforgivable negligence of the Lebanese state.

Experts said that heavy rainfall and poor structural integrity are allegedly the cause of the collapse; authorities claimed that they had already deemed the building as unsafe, and that the municipality ordered its evacuation two years ago. However, despite the orders, around 30 Syrian labourers were still renting apartments – for the benefit of the tenant and at the risk of their lives.  Anonymous, invisible, forced into a double illegality – those for whom safety regulations are considered accessory, when not unnecessary, or even an obstacle to the logic of profit.


We are not safe here

That the tragedy occurred quietly, and that the names of the four victims are not remembered, is shameful – but in its own way predictable, given the media saturation of the last four and a half months, the continuous massacres of civilians, and the disappearance of the news of the building of Choueifat among the hundreds of collapsed edifices and families of modern Sisyphus-Atlases crushed by the weight of their rubble.

The fact that a week has already passed since the event, however – and that despite this the issue is still urgent, is an imperative that forces to come to terms with the meaning of collective and anonymous death: what it means to survive the Syrian war, a decade of exile, constant policies of marginalization, to leave invisible.

Death due to negligence is always relevant: it might not make front page news, but it is present in all newspapers, between a failed negotiation and a postponed presidential election; it collects the victims of Choueifat together with those of the explosion of August 4; and all sick people whose symptoms are misinterpreted by unqualified doctors, diagnosed with an incorrect syndrome: when it is not the disease itself that kills, but the lack of prevention. The call for accountability, as well as that for remembrance – ‘it must not happen again’ – that this country is so used to – is now joined by a more urgent, more alarming one: we are not safe here. The voice – that of thousands of residents living in at-risk buildings, whose right to temporary housing allowance is silenced, when not denied, their lives marked by fear and uncertainty due to the structural fragility of their homes’ walls.

Government failures in Lebanon have been compounded by years of mismanagement and corruption, and a devastating economic crisis that has plunged over 75% of the population into poverty in the absence of a functioning social protection system.  The yet-another collective symptom of thousands of people in Lebanon is that around 18,000 of their homes could collapse, weakened by poor infrastructure dating back to property speculation, damaged by wars, by the latest earthquake, by decades of lack of maintenance. By the ignorance of evacuation calls. The aggravating factor – that most of the lives in danger belong to second-class residents, refugees or citizens with limited economic opportunities, unable to earn a living, crushed by a double burden, with the growing risk of the habit to invisibility. The death of the four from Choueifat is a collective responsibility: that to adequate housing is a human right – its denial concerns us all.


In Lebanon

Collapsing buildings: On Monday, a building in the Choueifat area south of Beirut collapsed, leaving at least four people dead, including two women and a child, and several others injured. The three-story apartment building, housing around 30 Syrians, was ordered to be evacuated already two years ago, local officials cited by the Associated Press reported, saying that the municipality had previously deemed the building unsafe. However, the owner of the building ignored the order and rented apartments to Syrians. Surrounding buildings’ inhabitants were immediately evacuated, as residents said the owner allegedly ignored their complaints and warnings of an imminent structural failure. 

In the last six months alone, several buildings collapsed in Lebanon, often reporting casualties. In October 2023, eight women were killed when a building partially collapsed in the town of Mansourieh, 10 kilometers east of Beirut. More recently, on February 11, another five-storey building in Choueifat collapsed, though no casualties were reported as the building began to shake 15 minutes before, giving residents enough time to evacuate. 

After a classroom roof collapsed in Tripoli killing a sixteen-year-old student in November 2022, Parliament formed a sub-committee to investigate buildings at risk of collapse, which the local Lebanese Association of Properties estimated between 16,000 to 18,000. In a press statement released earlier this week, the association demanded that dilapidated buildings be reinforced and residents of buildings at risk of collapse be evacuated.


Collapsing state: After the last deadly building collapse in Choueifat on Monday evening, an Amnesty International report published on Tuesday warned that thousands of people in north Lebanon live in unsafe buildings, accusing the Lebanese government of indifference toward its citizens’ safety. In the research briefing, Amnesty cited figures from the municipality of Tripoli as showing that 800 to 1,000 buildings in the city were at risk of collapse six months after the earthquake that one year ago hit southern Turkey and northern Syria – compared to 236 in 2022. 

“The Lebanese government has drastically failed in its responsibility to establish a clear plan to repair damaged buildings and ensure that residents are offered support, including compensation and alternative housing where applicable,” Amnesty International’s Lebanon researcher Sahar Mandour said in the report. “The right to adequate housing is a human right. It is shameful that residents in the city with the highest poverty rate in Lebanon have been left to fend for themselves and in some cases were handed eviction notices,” she added. According to UN data, in fact, poverty rates in Tripoli reached 58% in 2021.

A few days after the earthquake, the Lebanese government asked the municipalities to provide a list of buildings that had been damaged or were at risk of collapse, ensuring it would allocate for residents living in damaged buildings an allowance of around 320 dollars to cover three months worth of rent and repair the damages. But according to residents interviewed by Amnesty, only one person has received the money and the rest are still living in their houses despite the risk.


Massacre of the innocents: Over the past two weeks, Israeli attacks in south Lebanon have caused significant civilian casualties. On Thursday, an Israeli drone strike in Kfar Roummane, in the district of Nabatieh, killed two people and critically injured three others, with the target of the strike remaining unclear. Hezbollah announced in response several cross-border attacks, some of which were explicitly claiming to retaliate for Israeli attacks on civilians. 

The day before, on Wednesday, an Israeli airstrike on Majdal Zoun killed a woman and a six-year-old girl, Amal al-Durr, the latter dead in the hospital after suffering severe injuries caused by shattered glass shards inside her house. 

These strikes came after, on Monday, Israeli shelling injured at least 20 civilians after striking an industrial area in Ghazieh, near Saida, allegedly targeting a Hezbollah weapons depot; and the previous Wednesday, February 14, another Israeli airstrike killed at least 10 people, including three children, in what Israel claimed was a retaliation for the killing of a soldier in a cross-border attack.


Smuggling: A court in Cyprus on Saturday ordered two Lebanese men – aged 19 and 21 – to remain in police custody for six days on suspicion of people smuggling. The men were identified as the drivers of two boats that brought 146 Syrian refugees and one Lebanese migrant to the east Mediterranean island nation. 

According to police, the refugees said during questioning that they departed from the Lebanese city of Tripoli on Thursday, February 22, and each paid $2,500 for a place aboard the boats – one of whom carrying 30 people, including 6 women and 11 minors, and the other 117 people, including 8 women and 17 minors. Police spotted both vessels Saturday afternoon off Cape Greco on the island’s southeastern tip, and all the migrants were escorted ashore and later taken to a migrant reception center just outside the capital Nicosia. 

Earlier in February, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said Cyprus is working with like-minded EU member nations to start a discussion about that goal to help alleviate the pressure that Mediterranean countries receiving the most refugees and migrants are under, AFP reported quoting a press conference held in Nicosia on February 12, adding that “the European Union won’t serve its own best interests if it doesn’t consider designating some parts of Syria as safe zones so refugees and migrants can return there.”

Although 37% fewer migrants reached Cyprus last year compared to the year before, official figures show migrant arrivals by boat from Syria and Lebanon increased 355% — 4,259 in 2023 compared to 937 in 2022. In this regard, Interior Minister Constantinos Ioannou told the state broadcaster Saturday that Cypriot authorities have reached out to Europol to help patrol the Lebanese coastline to prevent migrant departures, after last week Lebanese authorities denied entry to 116 Syrian nationals returned by Cyprus after an informal sea migration attempt.


On strike: Beginning on Thursday morning, army retirees held protests across Lebanon demanding that the caretaker cabinet increase public employee’s wages ahead of scheduled Friday’s meeting. Retirees protested in Beirut, outside the Grand Serail and the Finance Ministry, as well as in Saida, Baalbeck, Akkar, Tripoli and South Lebanon, in some places preventing public administration employees from accessing their buildings. 

Protesting since February 6 for an increase in their retirement benefits – which have lost most of their value since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2019 – former military personnel warned that they intend to further escalate and stop paying taxes and public utility bills if the government does not improve their compensation. Thursday and Friday’s protest are in fact the latest in a series of demonstrations by retirees, who echoed discontent across the public sector where salaries are left behind the lira’s escalating depreciation.

At a meeting held on February 10, Najib Mikati’s caretaker government asked for time to study the issue but has yet to make any formal or public decision. Later on Wednesday, February 21, the protesters issued an ultimatum to the government to prepare a draft law on wage increases by Thursday, to be approved on Friday, or risk escalation. The demonstrators promised to remain in place until the offices close at 2 pm, to ensure that civil servants will not have access to them during the day on Thursday. 

Discontent, moreover, also spread to the civil service: on Thursday, civil servants at the Ministry of Information went on strike, following a meeting the previous day with caretaker Minister Ziad Makari, which failed to resolve the problem, according to their statement published on the website of the state-run National News Agency (NNA). On Thursday, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati asked his Finance Minister, Youssef Khalil, not to implement the measure until it was discussed at the government meeting due to take place on Friday.

Due to escalating street tensions, however, Friday’s scheduled cabinet session was postponed, with the surprise of Mikati in light of the “negativity in the street,” he stated, quoted by LBC. Underscoring the government’s commitment to ensuring the rights of all citizens, the Prime Minister also acknowledged the limitations imposed by budget allocations and specific spending ceilings.


Replaced: The Higher Judicial Council appointed Judge Jamal Hajjar acting Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, replacing Judge Ghassan Oueidat ahead of his Thursday retirement. Hajjar will take over his new role on Friday, amid a presidential vacancy preventing a signature from the head of state signing off the cabinet’s nomination. 

With his last years in office clouded by allegations of interference with investigations into corruption, commercial banks and the August 4 port blast, Oueidat was considered responsible for several sensitive cases, including accusations of corruption and money laundering against the former governor of the Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salamé. After being named a suspect in the port blast investigation, Oueidat last year countersued lead investigator Judge Tarek Bitar, instructing security forces not to enforce any of the probe lead’s decisions and releasing detainees held since the blast’s immediate aftermath. His succession was therefore impatiently awaited among the blast victims’ families, in the hope that Judge Bitar could resume the investigation. The outgoing head of the Public Prosecutor’s office had in fact prohibited the security services from executing the arrest warrants issued by the latter, which had, among other reasons, contributed to suspending the investigations.

The law on the judicial system of September 16, 1983 is clear regarding the designation, by ministerial decree, of the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation. According to the law, the General Attorney is appointed by a decree adopted by a two-thirds majority of the cabinet and co-signed by the President of the Republic. However, at the present, all jurists agree that it is the duty of the Council of Ministers to appoint the General Attorney, on the proposal of the Minister of Justice. Though, with the presidency remaining vacant, the caretaker government does not have the power to make appointments that are not part of current affairs.

Moreover, if President of the Higher Judicial Council, Souheil Abboud, had not entrusted the position of interim General Prosecutor to Judge Hajjar, it was the highest-ranking magistrate, Nada Dakroub, General Attorney at the Cassation Prosecutor’s office, who would have acceded automatically.

Announced on Tuesday, the acting appointments to the Court of Cassation came along with Judge Dakroub to head the 8th Chamber of the Court of Cassation, related to Civil, Litigation and Social Law – following around 60 interim appointments to courthouses across Lebanon, L’Orient-Le Jour reported


Justice for all: Reported by NOW’s Maan Barazy, the last session of the Cultural Track held at the American University of Beirut as part of the brainstorming seminar series ‘Lebanon in its Second Century: A Future Vision’ discussed the role of justice in the state of Lebanon’s current severe devastation and a possible vision for the judiciary system in the country’s second centennial.

Under the title “What Vision for Lebanon’s Judicial System in the Second Centennial?,” with researcher Sam Mnassa moderating, panelists highlighted that five years after the 2019 crisis and over a quarter of a century later, the Lebanese judiciary still suffers from suffocation. Despite several initiatives, such as the establishment of the Lebanese Judges Association in 2018 following approximately 12 years of judicial struggle against the authorities’ opposition to its inception, no real reform has been achieved. Since then, the association has provided a platform for building a pro-independence current within the judiciary, as confirmed by the dozens of statements it has issued over the years, even during the most challenging stages.

The first session was addressed by Arkan Al-Sibalani, Head of Advisors and Regional Anti-Corruption Projects Director at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Arab countries, who emphasized that judicial independence should have an organic relationship with all constituents of society. Followed by the Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Law at Saint Joseph University and researcher at the Legal Notebook, Samer Ghamrawi, the seminar pointed out that a major obstacle hindering any talk about essential and necessary reforms lies in the reality of the living and material crisis affecting the judges. According to Ghamrawi, the productivity in their work, in exchange for modest financial compensation, has witnessed a chronic decline – which, in turn, reflects on the courts and all those working in the judiciary who share the same crisis as the judges. 

While the former judge and former Director-General of the Ministry of Justice, Maisam Al-Nuweiri, claimed that the responsibility for reforms lies with the media and civil society – arguing that the media sometimes neglects to shed light on major issues periodically and intensively -, Sami Al-Hassan, the head of the Bar Association in the North, affirmed that reforms need to begin within the parliament, and independence begins within the judiciary, specifically through the selection of judges.

At the end of the session, the seminar sounded alarming regarding the potential collapse of the country’s judicial system, highlighting the persistent issue of political meddling amid Lebanon’s overarching crisis and rampant corruption: not limited to financial, but also administrative, which is likely to be more influential and widespread within the professional environment of the judiciary.


In The Region 

Overnight: On the night between Thursday and Friday, an Israeli strike in the central and southern part of the Gaza Strip left at least 104 dead, the Gaza Health Ministry announced. The worst of the latest overnight attacks in the Strip happened at early hours of Saturday morning in Deir el-Balah, in homes where more than 120 people were sheltering – the vast majority of whom were displaced women and children.

The genocide shows no sign of abating 20 weeks after its outbreak. The Israeli military offensive has killed nearly 30,000 people in Gaza since October 7, mainly civilians, according to the latest figures. In four and a half months, the ongoing onslaught has displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and pushed an estimated 2.2 million residents, the vast majority of the Gaza Strip’s population, to the brink of famine, according to the UN. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to this human tragedy,” warned the United Nations Agency for the Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on the social network X.  “People in Gaza are in extreme peril while the world watches on. No one can claim ‘I did not know’ as the images, footage and voices of unspeakable suffering continue.”

“In just over four months in Gaza, there have been more children, more journalists, more medical personnel, and more UN staff killed than anywhere in the world during a conflict. It is with profound regret that I must now inform you that UNRWA has reached a breaking point, with Israel’s repeated calls to dismantle it and the freezing of funding by donors at a time of unprecedented humanitarian needs in Gaza,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini stated in a letter to the President of the UN General Assembly, warning that the Agency will not be able to continue its humanitarian operations. 

Concern is growing every day in Rafah, where at least 1.4 million people are living, most of whom have fled the fighting elsewhere in the enclave. Rafah is the upcoming target of a large-scale operation announced by the Israeli army – not without growing criticism from international powers.

Visiting Argentina, for instance, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed his country’s opposition to any “Israeli reoccupation” of Gaza. In Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights denounced in a report “the gross violations” of human rights in Gaza “by all parties” since the start of the war. For his part, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who recently compared the Israeli offensive to the Holocaust, persisted yesterday in accusing Israel of “genocide.” 


Underway: Meanwhile, Gaza truce talks were underway in Paris on Friday, in what appeared to be the most serious push in weeks to halt the fighting in the battered Palestinian enclave and see Israeli and foreign hostages released. Talks had begun with Israel’s head of Mossad intelligence service meeting separately with each party – Qatar, Egypt and the United States. “There are budding signs of optimism about being able to move forward toward the start of a serious negotiation,” a source close to the talks told Reuters. 

The last time similar talks were held in Paris, at the beginning of February, they produced an outline for the first extended ceasefire of the war, approved by Israel and the United States. Hamas responded with a counterproposal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then rejected as “delusional.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a truce this past week on his first visit since December, and an official from the group later announced that they had wrapped up Egypt’s ceasefire talks and were now waiting to see what mediators could bring back from the weekend talks with Israel in France, where Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel arrived on Friday. Mediators have ramped up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than a million displaced people are sheltering at the southern edge of the enclave, after Israel announced it will attack the city if no truce agreement is reached soon. 

Israel’s national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said in a televised interview that the “delegation has returned from Paris, there is probably room to move towards an agreement,” while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the meeting would discuss the “next steps in the negotiations.” Local media later reported that the meeting had concluded with the cabinet agreeing to send a delegation to Qatar in the coming days to continue the talks, possibly finding a solution before the beginning of the month of Ramadan.


Netanyahu’s day after: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has presented his first official ‘day after’ plan for the Gaza Strip, saying Israel will keep security control over all Palestinian areas and make reconstruction of Gaza dependent on its demilitarization. According to the document, presented to members of Israel’s security cabinet on Thursday and consulted by Reuters on Friday, Israel would maintain security control over all land west of Jordan, including the occupied West Bank and Gaza – territories where the Palestinians want to create an independent state.

Concerning the medium-term goals of Israel’s Prime Minister, he outlined the demilitarization and deradicalization in the Strip, without elaborating on when that intermediary stage would begin. In the long-term goals listed, instead, Netanyahu rejected the “unilateral recognition” of a Palestinian state, claiming a settlement with the Palestinians will only be achieved through direct negotiations between the two sides – yet without naming who the Palestinian party would be. 

After calling for shutting down the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA and replacing it with other international aid groups, he proposed Israel to have a presence on the Gaza-Egypt border in the south of the enclave and to cooperate with Egypt and the United States in that area to prevent smuggling attempts, including at the Rafah crossing. 

On the other side, the spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told Reuters that Netanyahu’s proposal was doomed to fail, as were any Israeli plans to change the geographic and demographic realities in Gaza. “If the world is genuinely interested in having security and stability in the region, it must end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and recognize an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” he said. 


Expanding the colonial plan: Israel plans to approve the construction of more than 3,300 new homes in settlements in the occupied West Bank, a senior cabinet minister from the far-right wing of the government announced. The colonial plan’s expansion in the occupied West Bank came after one person was killed and several injured in a shooting near an Israeli settlement on Thursday.

Three gunmen opened fire on cars waiting near the az-Za’ayyem checkpoint on the Route 1 highway between Jerusalem and the large Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Israeli newspaper The Times of Israel reported, while three Palestinian men from villages near Bethlehem were named as the perpetrators by Shin Bet, Israel’s national security agency.

In response to the incident, Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for more settlements – considered illegal under international law – in the West Bank to bolster security for Israelis. “The serious attack on Ma’ale Adumim must have a decisive security response but also an answer from the settlements,” he stated. In addition, speaking at the scene of the attack, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir  said the shooting was further proof of the need to arm the Israeli population and limit freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank.

Approval of new settlements’ construction is bound to elicit condemnation from the United States at a time when the relationship between the allies is fraught because of disagreements over the course of Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Although consecutive Israeli governments have expanded settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank for years, construction has accelerated under Netanyahu’s current right-wing government, which includes settlers such as Smotrich in key positions. At the moment, approximately 380,000 Israeli settlers illegally reside in the West Bank, according to figures from Israeli human rights group B’tselem – with around 40,000 only in Ma’ale Adumim, created following the 1967 war and the progressive expulsion of Palestinians, particularly Bedouin communities, from their native lands.


Moral failure: A number of countries have expressed disappointment after the US vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution by Algeria, which called for a temporary ceasefire in the besieged Gaza Strip. The US move came despite the support of 13 other members of the Security Council, with one abstention from the UK – and marked the third time America vetoed a call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Washington has in fact previously vetoed an amendment proposed by Russia calling for a ceasefire in December, and an earlier resolution in October calling for humanitarian pauses. The vote came one day after the US circulated a rival resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire linked to the release of all remaining Israeli hostages in the Strip.

Algeria described US opposition to a ceasefire as an “approval of starvation as a means of war” as reports continue to emerge of severe hunger among the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza. Its ambassador to the UN, Amar Bendjama, made an impassioned appeal before the Security Council rejecting the displacement of Palestinians and calling for an immediate ceasefire. “This failure,” he stated, “does not absolve the Security Council of shouldering its responsibilities,” nor “the international community of its obligations vis-à-vis the unarmed Palestinian people,” nor “the occupation power of its obligation to implement the precautionary measures ordered by the International Court of Justice.” 

Calling for the aggression to end and for humanitarian assistance to be delivered across Gaza, Bendjama concluded that “all those impeding such calls should review their policies and their calculations because wrong decisions today will have a cost on our region and our world tomorrow. And this cost will be violence and instability.”

China and Russia also expressed their criticism of US policy. As for Hamas, the group criticized the US for giving Israel the green light to commit more massacres. “This veto serves the agenda of the Israeli occupation, obstructs international efforts to stop the aggression, and increases the suffering of our people,” the Palestinian militant group said in a statement released on Tuesday.


A 35-billion-dollars deal: Egypt has agreed to a 35 billion dollars deal with the United Arab Emirates to develop the area of Ras el-Hekma on its northwestern coast, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly announced on Friday after weeks of speculations. Madbouly said at a news conference, which was attended by Egyptian and Emirati officials, that Egypt will receive an advance amount of 15 billion dollars in the coming week, and another 20 billion within two months, in an attempt to solve the current economic crisis by attracting foreign currency, creating jobs and stabilizing the exchange rate.

A partnership between the Egyptian government and an Emirati consortium led by Abu Dhabi-based investment and holding company ADQ, the deal is the largest foreign direct investment in an urban development project in the country’s modern history, the Prime Minister said.

However, news about the sale has triggered condemnation by critics of the government, who said the land is one of Egypt’s most valuable coastal locations and that it should be developed by local investors. Despite being a private investment with the majority of shares held by the UAE consortium, though, the Egyptian state will have a 35 percent share of the profits from this project, which will include residential neighborhoods, tourist resorts, schools, universities, an industrial zone, a central financial and business district, an international marina for tourist yachts, and an international airport south of the city.

Concerning the fate of the current inhabitants of the Ras el-Hekma area, Madbouly said they would be relocated to other areas and would be provided financial compensation, as residents have reportedly expressed fears of forced evictions. 


The policy of defense: On Wednesday, February 21, the cabinet of Somalia formally approved a defense and economic cooperation agreement with Turkey, authorizing Ankara to build, train and equip the Somali navy and reportedly defend its territorial waters amid tensions with Ethiopia. Last month, in fact, Ethiopia signed an agreement that grants it naval and commercial access to ports along self-declared independent Somaliland’s coast, in exchange for recognition of the breakaways region’s independence. Somalia strongly condemned the move, and Turkey backed Mogadishu in the affair.

The deal, entrusting Turkey with the responsibility of protecting the Somali waters in case of maritime violations, was described by Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre as a “historic” one that would become a “legacy” for the Somali nation in the long run. “This agreement will put an end to the fear of terrorism, pirates, illegal fishing, poisoning, abuse and threats from abroad,” he said, according to the local reports quoted by Reuters.

First signed in Ankara by the two countries’ Defense Ministers – Somali Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur and Turkish Yasar Guker – on February 8, the deal will be in force for a decade, according to Somali authorities. However, the contents of the agreement would be public simultaneously as it is ratified by the Turkish Parliament and President Recep Tayyp Erdogan. 

The Turkish Navy already operates off the shore of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden under a UN mission to combat piracy and armed robbery since 2009, not to mention that Turkey has been training Somali soldiers in recent years to contribute to the latter’s attempts to build a national army, while Ankara has a large military base in Mogadishu and a Turkish firm is running its airport. “The agreement stipulates that Turkey will receive 30 percent of the revenue from the Somali exclusive economic zone known for abundant marine resources,” Garowe Online reported

However, Ankara also has close ties with Ethiopia, having armed the federal government with military drones that prevented the seizure of its capital by Tigrayan forces in 2022, eventually contributing to de-escalating the two-year-long conflict in the country’s northern region. Therefore, while for Somalia the agreement would offer crucial support for security and development initiatives – as part of the country’s efforts to assert its economic and political independence with the support of international partners – for Turkey it represents yet another opportunity to expand its influence and deepen its engagement in Africa.


Recruiting: A recent report published by rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) showed that the Houthis have recruited thousands of people to their armed forces since October 7, 2023, while activists claimed that the armed group is recruiting children as young as 13 – which is considered a war crime. “The Houthis are exploiting the Palestinian cause to recruit more children for their domestic fight in Yemen,” said Niku Jafarnia, Yemen and Bahrain researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Houthis should be investing resources into providing the basic needs of children in their territories like good education, food, and water, rather than replacing their childhood with conflict,” she continued.

Human Rights Watch spoke with five human rights activists and individuals working with civil society organizations across Yemen, who confirmed a significant increase in child recruitment in recent months.

Over the last three months, the report reads, the Houthis have recruited more than 70,000 new fighters, including from the governorates of Dhamar, Sanaa, Saada, Ammran, Hajja, and Hodeida. According to a Houthi spokesperson, instead, the number of new fighters since the group began its actions in the Red Sea in support of Palestine nears 200,000. While it is unclear how many of the new recruits have been children, several activists and experts working on issues related to child recruitment told Human Rights Watch that the vast majority of recruits are ages 13 to 25, including at least hundreds or thousands who are younger than 18. News releases about their recent recruitment published by the Houthis’ official news outlet, SabaNet, show people who appear to be children.

The Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, fought a civil war with a Saudi-led military coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognized government (IRG) since March 2015, months after the Houthis’ September 2014 taking of the capital, Sanaa. After a decade at war, the two sides came to a truce in April 2022 that halted the fighting and began permanent ceasefire talks, whose announcement was delayed due to the war in Gaza. After the recent developments – including the numerous naval interceptions and hijackings in the Red Sea, as well as the recent influx of new military recruits – a ceasefire looks now very unlikely. In what has already been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by UNHCR, should hostilities renew in Yemen, it is unclear what impact it could have on the Houthis’ popularity.

However, the ongoing US and UK-led airstrikes on Yemen have reportedly increased domestic support for the Houthis, strengthening the group’s ability to recruit new fighters. In this regard, Al-Jazeera’s Sanad verification team said about 37,000 fighters had been recruited since the US air strikes began alone.


No end in sight: The armed conflict in Sudan has resulted in about 14,000 civilians killed, 27,700 injured, 8.1 million displaced, property looted, and children conscripted, as fighting has spread to more regions of the country, said a wide-ranging report from the UN Human Rights Office released on Friday. The report details multiple indiscriminate attacks by both the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in densely populated areas, including sites sheltering internally displaced people – particularly in the capital Khartoum, as well as in Kordorfan and Darfur – during fighting between April and December 2023.

“For nearly a year now, accounts coming out of Sudan have been of death, suffering and despair, as the senseless conflict and human rights violations and abuses have persisted with no end in sight,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

The report is based on interviews with 303 victims and witnesses, including dozens conducted in Ethiopia and eastern Chad, as well as analysis of photographs, videos, and satellite imagery and other open source information. It shows that both parties to the conflict used explosive weapons with wide area effects, such as missiles fired from fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-aircraft weapons and artillery shells in densely populated areas. Just this week, credible video evidence reviewed by the UN Human Rights Office showed that several students travelling by road in North Kordofan State may have been beheaded by men in SAF uniform in El-Obeid City – the victims seen as being RSF supporters based on their perceived ethnicity. The video footage which was posted on social media on February 15 shows troops parading with decapitated heads in the street while chanting ethnic slurs.

The report also claims that dozens of people, including children, have been victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence in the ongoing conflict in Sudan, attacks which could be assimilated to war crimes.

Meanwhile, the US administration voiced its concern over reports of arms shipments sent by Iran to the Sudanese army, urging external actors to refrain from providing material assistance as it “prolongs the fighting, extends the war,” and also “reduces the prospects for finding a negotiated exit from the conflict,” US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey stated, quoted by Asharq Al-Awsat. Washington claims to be mainly concerned with ‘the day after’ the war in Sudan, focusing on returning governance to civilians after the conflict. The US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Molly Phee, has in fact recently travelled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in connection with the African Union Summit, accompanied by USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Monde Muyangwa, Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer, and Ambassador Godfrey, where they held a series of meetings focused on addressing Sudan’s continuing conflict and humanitarian crisis. 


What We’re Reading

Fragmented: Amidst the tragic developments across the southern region, the Lebanese government’s response appears notably detached, treating the turmoil almost as if it were occurring beyond its borders. Political psychologist Ramzi Abou Ismail raised for NOW critical questions about the state’s responsibility and its perceived inaction and silence, which not only highlight the challenges of state sovereignty, but also underscore the complexities of Lebanese politics, where non-state actors continue to significantly influence national affairs.


Lebanon +

In their last episode of Maabar, an ongoing podcast series tracing the modern history of Lebanon through the stories of those who have lived it, Anthony Tawil and Cedric Kayem heard first hand what it was like to be held hostage in another country and another war. From being first lured by the exotic, exciting prospect of covering war in Lebanon, foreign journalists found their position changed overnight, from sophisticated foreign correspondents to vulnerable preys and naïve pawns, at the mercy of their captors. Cutting across two genres – oral history and documentary – the cascade of stories paints a people-centered, multi-perspective view of what took place and the meanings they carry. In their last release ‘Les Yeux Masqués’ they immersed their audience in the Civil War through the compelling experiences of Western journalists taken hostage, hand-cuffed, blind folded, and the state of psychological terror they passed through.