Out of trend

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the village of Majdel Zoun near Lebanon’s southern border on April 21, 2024, amid ongoing cross-border tensions as fighting continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. (Photo by KAWNAT HAJU / AFP)

IDF strikes on southern Gaza city of Rafah kill 18 including 14 children, Israel counter-retaliates against Iran, Deadly blast at Iraq army base amid Israel-Iran tensions, Biden weighs more than 1 billion dollars in new arms for Israel as the US vetoed a proposal for full Palestinian membership of the United Nations, Israel approves five-year plan to rebuild Gaza border region, Google allegedly fires 28 employees opposed to contract providing Israel with AI cloud services, Israeli channel reports the ICC could issue arrest warrants for Benjamin Netanyahu and other military and political leaders, As Hamas explores moving its political headquarters out of Qatar, talks to free Israeli hostages could be upended, Turkey’s Erdogan urges Palestinian unity after meeting Hamas chief, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to announce sanctions against the Israeli military’s Netzah Yehuda battalion, US senators call on Biden to sanction Sudan’s RSF over human rights abuses, Amnesty International’s report reveals systematic violations in detention in north-east Syria, Cyprus authorities forced irregular migration boats to return to Lebanon, Wednesday marked the highest number of injuries from a Hezbollah attack on northern Israel since the start of cross-border fighting on October 8, Caretaker Defense Minister Maurice Slim appealed the caretaker cabinet’s appointment of Hassan Audi as the new Army Chief of Staff, In Bar Elias and Marj refugee camps dozens of Syrians forced to pack up after police night raids, Interior minister says only Syrians with ‘security reasons’ can stay in Lebanon, Several femicides recorded in Lebanon as the level of violence against women in the country is on the rise

The municipality of Nabatieh announced in a statement, as reported by newspage Elnashra and other local media – yet hidden by the mainstream news – that, in order to complete the update of information related to Syrian refugees in the city, and with the aim of issuing an identification card for them, Monday, April 22, is the last day for Syrian residents in the neighborhood of Rahbat, from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon, to register. Anyone who fails to complete the registration within the deadline will be considered in violation of due legal procedures, the statement reads.

The ultimatum stands as only one of the many restrictive measures drawn against Syrian refugees in the country since the abduction and assassination of Lebanese Forces’ executive Pascal Sleiman in Jbeil on April 7. Since then, not only has a spiral of violence targeted the already marginalized community in the country, with alleged episodes of beatings in the streets of Beirut, Tabarja, and Jbeil, targeting and destroying shops, and besieging some residential complexes – but also, and with extremely serious consequences, a series of discriminatory policies has been approved to accomplish the not-so-advertised deportation plan to a country, Assad’s Syria, which rights organization do not hesitate to define unsafe for refugees to return. 

Yet the deportation campaign didn’t start this April: the wave of aggressive policing intensified last spring through mass arrests and deportations, tightened work regulations and new administrative hurdles to access housing and documents, which were fueled by xenophobic calls for the return of Syrian refugees. At the beginning of October 2023, moreover, Lebanon’s Minister of Interior and Municipalities, Bassam Mawlawi, formally requested the Internal Security Forces to initiate a campaign against Syrian individuals driving motorcycles without Lebanese residency, directing Beirut Governor, Marwan Abboud, to instruct the Municipal Guard to ramp up security patrols. Later in March, this year, Governor Abboud issued regulations forcing displaced Syrians to register their papers with the municipality, prohibiting them from freelance work without a municipal licence and demanding data from their employers – while lessors have been asked to refrain from concluding contracts with displaced Syrian tenants before obtaining municipality approval. 

Measures like these have recently been fostered by growingly racist sentiment, as the crisis worsens amidst escalating regional tensions. The destiny of 1.5 million Syrian nationals, however, does not seem to fall in the trend of what insecurity, for today’s Lebanon, represents. 


In serious danger

Earlier in March, Eye on Syria reported that Syrian political detainees in Lebanon’s Roumieh Prison tried to end their lives in protest against threats of deportation to Syria and to being handed over to the Assad authorities – with three of them ending up in critical condition after attempting to hang themselves inside the prison. More recently, last week, Syrian refugee Ali Walid Abdulbaqi – from the village of Muhambel in the Idlib countryside – died from wounds after being severely beaten by two Lebanese individuals. The Bar Elias and Marj Syrian refugee camps in the Beqaa Valley were dismantled after a Lebanese Army raid to arrest the suspected killers of a sixty-year-old man in Azzounieh, found dead last Tuesday after what appeared to be a robbery – as the governor of North Lebanon on Wednesday called on the region’s police commander to “dismantle all encroachments on public land, particularly in the city of Tripoli,” giving violators a fortnight to vacate the premises.

At the same time, on the institutional level, caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi met with governors and security chiefs to discuss the implementation of regulations targeting displaced Syrians, as the state’s new deportation plans pile on to recent housing, work and administrative restrictions. With the government announcing plans to deport Syrians in Lebanon who do not meet its criteria for being part of the ‘actual displaced’ – Lebanese officials having repeatedly claimed that vast numbers of Syrians in Lebanon are there for economic burdens and that those without ‘security reasons’ cannot stay in the country -, refugees who attempted the sea route to migrate to Europe were rejected by Cypriot authorities and forced back to Lebanese shores.

And while human rights organizations allegedly denounced how Syrian security agencies arbitrarily detained, kidnapped, tortured, and killed refugees who returned to Syria between 2017 and 2021 – clearly showing how the pattern of abuse and persecution has not ceased; while it was found that returnees had been tortured in Syrian military intelligence’s custody and conscripted to serve in Syria’s military reserve force; while the UN Refugee Agency maintains that conditions in Syria prevent it from promoting or facilitating refugee returns – Cyprus authorities repeatedly bemoaned that European Union member states cannot currently return asylum seekers to Syria, calling the EU to reevaluate whether Syria is safe for returns so that asylum seekers could be deported to or returned there, and, as recently as last Sunday, announced that Europe’s easternmost country has suspended the processing of asylum applications from Syrians following a sharp increase in arrivals this month. 


In Lebanon

Ongoing strikes: On Wednesday, April 17, 18 Israeli soldiers were injured in a Hezbollah strike on a base in northern Israel retaliating against the killing of several party members in targeted drone and airstrikes on southern Lebanon the day before. The day marked the highest number of injuries from a Hezbollah attack on northern Israel since the start of cross-border fighting on October 8. 

The Iran-backed party struck a ‘community center’ in Arab al-Aramshe where soldiers, security officials, and civilians were gathered, Israeli media reported. According to the Israeli army, five reserve soldiers were seriously wounded, one critically. Thirteen reservists were wounded in total, as were two security officials and three civilians. The IDF said it was investigating why the Iron Dome’s interceptor missiles were not launched at the incoming Hezbollah rockets. The defense system is programmed to evaluate whether missiles will fall in civilian areas and only launch an interceptor missile when this is determined to be the case.

On the same day, Israel attacked Iaat in the Beqaa Valley, injuring two people and destroying warehouses in the area. Israeli strikes on eastern Lebanon have continued since Israel’s first attack on Baalbek since 2006 last month, retaliating to Hezbollah’s attack on one of its drones by supposedly targeting part of the party’s air defense unit.

During the weekend, moreover, the Israeli army reported that it had targeted several Hezbollah military sites and infrastructures, notably in Khiam, Mansouri, Alma al-Shaab and Yater, in southern Lebanon, and  the Jabbour heights, in the Jezzine district, Western Beqaa. On Friday morning, Hezbollah announced the death of another of its members, Mohammed Hassan al-Sayyed Abdel Mohsen Fadlallah, also known as Abu Hadi, in Aita al-Shaab – raising the number of militants killed in Israeli strikes in Lebanon and Syria since October 8 to nearly 290. Abu Hadi was the son of Lebanese religious scholar Abdel Mohsin Fadlallah and the son of the sister of the late Sayyed Mohammed Fadlallah, one of Lebanon’s most influential Shiite clerics who was often credited as being the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, despite not being a member of the party. 


Appointed: Caretaker Defense Minister Maurice Slim lodged an appeal with the State Council on Wednesday against the government’s decision to appoint Hassan Audi as the new Army Chief of Staff and his promotion to the rank of general, al-Markaziya news agency reported. Slim, who has been boycotting cabinet sessions along with other Free Patriotic Movement-affiliated ministers, contended that the cabinet’s caretaker status amid the presidential vacuum prevents it from making such an assignment: according to them, a cabinet in charge of current affairs should only deal with urgent matters and not make appointments, which require a sitting President.

The State Council must now decide whether it is competent to deal with this appeal and may adopt, in the next few weeks, interim and conservatory measures on the case. Its final decision, however, could take months.

On February 8, 2024, the government unanimously appointed Audi to the post of Chief of Staff, which had been vacant since December 2022. The cabinet had studied the case on the basis of a study drawn up by the Council’s Secretary General, Mahmoud Makkiyeh, to avoid a vacuum in the army. In one of its points, it highlights the fact that the circumstances of the war between Hezbollah and Israel in southern Lebanon necessitate the appointment of a Chief of Staff. 

Several high-ranking positions in government institutions remain vacant or occupied by interim chiefs after more than a year with no President, including the central bank and general security. Parliament exceptionally extended Lebanese Army chief Joseph Aoun’s mandate ahead of his scheduled retirement earlier this year.


Rejected: The Cypriot authorities obstructed the arrival of five irregular migration boats carrying around 300 migrants who departed from Lebanese and Syrian coasts a few days ago. According to Alarm Phone, Cyprus even refused to provide assistance, food or water to the migrants, forcing three of the boats to return to Lebanon on Wednesday, April 17 – after they had been in the sea for four days. Overcrowded, a boat with the capacity of 30 to 40 people was carrying more than 120, Megaphone reported.

Over the last few days, several boats trying to reach Cyprus were attacked and blocked on the open water by Cypriot authorities, who have also suspended asylum for Syrian nationals. Human rights sources, moreover, reported that the army detained passengers from one of the boats and expressed concern about Syrian passengers being deported to Syria and handed over directly to the regime.

“These attacks are an attack against hundreds of lives and mark another escalation of violence against people on the move by Cyprus with support of the EU,” Alarm Phone stated on X. 


Dismantled: The Bar Elias and Marj Syrian refugee camps in the Beqaa Valley were dismantled after a Lebanese Army raid to arrest the suspected killers of a sixty-year-old man in Azzounieh, found dead on Tuesday after what appeared to be a robbery. According to reports by local media outlets, the man was found strangled to death in an apartment he owned. The reports say he had been showing the property to people who had introduced themselves as potential tenants, adding that theft was the motive for the murder.

On Wednesday evening, the Lebanese Army announced that it had arrested people suspected of murdering Yasser al-Koukash, “two of whom confessed to participating” in the crime. The army also said that it will keep investigating the crime “under the supervision of the competent judiciary,” and that it will “continue working to arrest the rest of those involved.”

Beqaa governor Kamal Abou Jaoude claimed the camps’ inhabitants fled to avoid reprisals following the raid, after a week of retaliatory violence and discriminatory measures targeting displaced Syrians that followed the kidnapping and murder of Lebanese Forces’ Executive Pascal Sleiman in Jbeil on April 7. After calling on municipalities to tighten controls on Syrian refugees on April 15, the governor of North Lebanon on Wednesday called on the region’s police commander to “dismantle all encroachments on public land, particularly in the city of Tripoli,” giving violators a fortnight to vacate the premises.

The Bar Elias camp housed dozens of tents and its Marj counterpart was the site of hundreds of makeshift dwellings, with almost 100 tents housing displaced families. People from various backgrounds smoothly moved to the towns after the 2011 Syrian war – thanks to their strategic location along the Beirut-Damascus highway. Positioned between the Syrian border and the bustling town of Chtaura, they both have become a central point for economic activities between the two countries. To give an idea, the Syrian population in Bar Elias has jumped from 10,000 before the conflict to over 130,000.


Planning deportation: Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi met with governors and security chiefs to discuss the implementation of regulations targeting displaced Syrians, as the state’s new deportation plans pile on to recent housing, work and administrative restrictions. During Thursday’s meeting of governors and heads of security agencies in his Beirut office, Mawlawi claimed the state’s circulars and deportation plans aim to “protect” the displaced population, calling displaced Syrians’ presence in Lebanon in its current form “unacceptable,” the state-run National News Agency (NNA) reported.

Last week, the government announced plans to deport Syrians in Lebanon who do not meet its criteria for being part of the “actual displaced.” Following Thursday’s meeting, the minister said there is a need to “apply Lebanese laws and international treaties, that Lebanon has agreed to, on the issue of Syrian displacement,” saying also that Lebanon “cannot tolerate economic displacement.” “In Lebanon, we are not racist, but the established laws must be applied and security must be preserved.”

Lebanese officials have in fact repeatedly claimed that vast numbers of Syrians in Lebanon are there due to economic burdens. Announcing that Syrians who do not have “security reasons” for being in Lebanon cannot stay in the country, Mawlawi further called for clampdowns on vigilantism, after outbreaks of discriminatory violence over the past week, instigated by the killing and abduction to Syria of Lebanese Forces official Pascal Sleiman, threatened Syrians through beatings, expulsions and informal checkpoints. 

Officials’ renewed focus on Syrians in Lebanon – in light of the recent violence and international pressure against informal departures from Lebanese shores – comes after a wave of aggressive policing that began in April 2023 through mass arrests and deportations, tightened work regulations and new administrative hurdles to access housing and documents, which were fueled by xenophobic calls for the return of Syrian refugees.


Unprecedented violence: On the evening of Monday, April 15, the village of Mieh w Mieh, in the Saida district, witnessed a horrifying femicide. The body of a woman was discovered buried in a garden in the village, and the accused is none other than one of the village’s well-known inhabitants. The discovery was made by a 24-year-old agricultural worker from the village. While weeding a garden, the young man found a bone that he believed to be that of a human. He then came across human remains scattered all over the grounds.

The body was finally identified as that of a woman of American origin, married to a man from Mieh w Mieh, who had mysteriously disappeared two months ago. At the time, the husband had told everyone that his wife had been travelling, villagers told Lebanese newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour. According to the NNA, the man was arrested on Monday and confessed to killing his wife before cutting her up and burying her. The motive for the murder was not disclosed by the authorities. Villagers interviewed simply noted that the couple did not get on well.

Several femicides were recorded in Lebanon and the level of violence against women in the country is on the rise, according to Kafa, ABAAD and other women’s rights organizations. The former estimated that, in the first six months of 2023 alone, 12 women were killed, six experienced attempted murder, and seven committed suicide – and these tallies only include reported cases.


In The Region 

Meanwhile, in Gaza: The genocide continues unabated in the Gaza Strip, where the UN continues to raise concerns over widespread famine. According to Rafah Civil Defense spokesman Mahmoud Bassal, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) struck several parts of the city on Saturday, April 20. “It’s been a very hard night,” he said. The city, located in the extreme south of the Strip on the border with Egypt, and home to around 1.5 million Palestinians – more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population -, lives under the threat of a ground offensive that Israel has promised to launch. 

On Saturday, the army said it had struck “terrorist targets,” including a “launch base at Beit Hanoun” in northern Gaza, after intercepting a missile aimed at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. The victims, 18 in total, were mainly children. The first strike on Saturday killed a man, his wife and their 3-year-old child, according to the nearby Kuwaiti Hospital, which received the bodies. The woman was pregnant, and the doctors managed to save the baby, the hospital said. The second strike killed eight children and two women, all from the same family, according to hospital records. An airstrike in Rafah the night before killed nine people, including six children.

The Israel-Hamas war has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, although the death toll is likely far higher, with thousands of bodies believed buried in the debris of destroyed buildings from Israeli strikes, and nearly 77,000 wounded without access to proper health care. It devastated Gaza’s two largest cities, left a swath of destruction across the territory, not to mention that around 80% of the population have fled their homes to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave, which experts say is on the brink of famine.  

Moreover, in the southern city of Khan Younis, horrific scenes emerged after the Israeli military withdrew from Nasser Hospital on April 7, leaving trails of destruction inside the complex – Al Jazeera correspondent Hani Mahmoud reported, adding that what’s “most shocking” is the discovery of a mass grave, the largest so far in the city of Khan Younis. In the hospital courtyard, civil defense members and paramedics have retrieved 180 bodies buried in this mass grave by the Israeli military, including elderly women, children and young men.

According to the correspondent, rescuers said some bodies were found inside plastic bags that had Hebrew writing on them; some had their hands tied behind their backs and “it looks like they were executed and then buried here.” “Within the past half an hour,” Mahmoud reported on Sunday morning, “we’ve seen a group of people coming here – crying parents, family members – searching for the bodies of their loved ones.”


Spiral of retaliation: In the early morning of Friday, April 19, Israel struck an Iranian military airport in Isfahan as part of its retaliation to Iran’s own weekend strikes on Israel, leading to the grounding of flights in the country that was slowly being lifted around an hour after the attack. Iran said it shot down three small drones that had entered its airspace, adding that there has been no disruption to major infrastructure and that flights were slowly resuming. 

The explosions coincided with the 85th birthday of the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, AFP noted.

Israeli strikes also targeted a Syrian army position in southern Syria at dawn on the same day, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), just as Israel was launching an attack on Iran, according to US media – while on the night between Friday and Saturday, a blast, the origins of which remain unknown, caused casualties at an Iraqi base housing army troops and former pro-Iran paramilitaries, security sources reported. One person was killed and eight wounded in the overnight explosion which hit the Kalsu military base in Babylon province south of Baghdad, where Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, or Hashed al-Shaabi, are stationed. Air Defense Command, however, reported that “no drones or combat aircraft in the airspace of Babylon province before or during the explosion.”


Global reactions: The foreign ministers of the G7 countries on Friday called on all parties to “prevent further escalation” in the Middle East – following reports of explosions in Iran. “In light of the April 19 strikes, we call on all parties to work to prevent further escalation. The G7 will continue to work in this direction,” they stated in the final communiqué issued at the end of their three-day meeting on the small Italian island of Capri – backed by the comments of EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. “It is absolutely necessary for the region to remain stable and for all parties to refrain from any further action,” said von der Leyen during a visit to Finland with Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo.

Meanwhile, Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s far-right National Security Minister, has come under fire domestically after posting on X “Scarecrow!” – which means feeble in Hebrew slang and suggests that not only was Israel behind the attack on Iran, but that the attack was weak, AFP reported. “Never before has a minister done such a heavy damage to the country’s security, its image, and its international status,” Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid wrote in his own post. “In an unforgivable tweet of one word, Ben Gvir managed to sneer and shame Israel from Tehran to Washington.” Israel has not publicly taken credit for the Friday morning strike near the central Iranian city of Isfahan.

On the other side, Iranian President Ebrahim Raissi gave a speech on Friday morning without saying a word about the explosions reported a few hours earlier, which the authorities did not link to tensions with Israel. Speaking before several hundred people in the northeastern town of Damghan, Raissi briefly touched on the tense international context in the Middle East following Iran’s unprecedented drone and missile strikes against Israel the previous weekend. The operation, carried out on April 13, “reflected our authority, the iron will of our people and our unity,” he declared. “All sections of the population and all political tendencies agree that the operation reinforced the strength and authority of the Islamic Republic.”

Confirming that there was no damage to Iran’s nuclear sites, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), based in Vienna, Austria, “continues to call,” on social network X, “everyone to extreme restraint and reiterates that no nuclear facility should ever be targeted in military conflicts.”


The Western block: The Middle East crisis and new sanctions against Iran were at the heart of the G7 Foreign Ministers’ discussions, which ran from Wednesday, April 17, until Friday, April 19, on the small Italian island of Capri off the coast of Naples. The Ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, discussed “the situation in the Middle East, what has happened between Iran and Israel, the situation in Gaza and the situation in the Red Sea,” where Iranian-backed Houthi rebels are disrupting shipping, Italian diplomatic chief Antonio Tajani announced on X.

Also on Thursday, the United States and Great Britain stepped up their sanctions against Iran, following the drone and missile attack launched on Israeli territory on April 13 after a deadly strike blamed on Israel against the Iranian consulate in Damascus.

The United States also vetoed a proposal for full Palestinian membership in the United Nations, a decision which was strongly condemned by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. While the former promised to continue “its struggle until the establishment of an independent and fully sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital,” the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, considered that the “aggressive American policy towards Palestine, its people and its legitimate rights represents a flagrant aggression against international law.”

Moreover, the US is considering “more than 1 billion dollars in new weapons deals for Israel including tank ammunition, military vehicles and mortar rounds,” the Wall Street Journal reported citing US officials. The proposed weapons transfers would be “among the largest to Israel since it invaded Gaza.”


Leaving Qatar: The political wing of Hamas is reportedly seeking to leave its current base in Qatar against a backdrop of complicated negotiations led in particular by the Gulf state between the Palestinian militant group and Israel aimed at declaring a truce in Gaza and an exchange of hostages. The information was released as US lawmakers pressured Doha to try to achieve results in the talks. 

According to US newspaper The Wall Street Journal, such a relocation of Hamas’ political offices could “jeopardize these delicate negotiations” and “make it more difficult for Israel and the United States to convey messages to a group designated by Washington as a terrorist organization.”

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Turkey on Friday night to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – just as Qatar announced it wants to reassess its role as mediator in the Gaza conflict. The Gulf country is threatening to pull out of truce negotiations between Hamas and Israel as it comes under criticism from Israel and some US Democrats. Turkey, however, which has relations with both Israel and Hamas, could take advantage of the situation to try to resume mediation.

Turkish President Erdogan has in fact urged Palestinians to unite amid Israel’s war in Gaza, following talks with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul, according to his office. “The meeting addressed the issues about Israel’s attacks on Palestinian territory, especially Gaza, what needs to be done to ensure adequate and uninterrupted delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, and a fair and lasting peace process in the region,” a post by the Turkish Directorate of Communications on X read, ensuring that Turkey’s humanitarian aid to Palestine will continue to “relieve suffering to a certain extent,” that more than 45,000 tons of humanitarian aid have been delivered to the region to date, and that a number of sanctions, including restrictions on trade, have been implemented against Israel.

Evaluating the tensions between Israel and Iran, moreover, the communiqué reads that “Israel should not be let gain ground with the incidents as well as the importance of efforts to refocus attention on Gaza to prevent the atmosphere questioning Israel’s attacks in the West from fading down.”


The Gaza Envelope: Israel’s cabinet approved a five-year, 19-billions-shekel (around 5 billion dollars) plan to rebuild and strengthen communities near the Gaza border, known as the Gaza Envelope, the Prime Minister’s Office announced. The program, which will be carried out by the recently created Tekuma (‘Revival’) Authority, will see investment in “housing, infrastructure, education, employment opportunities, medical services and more,” the Office added. “The Hamas terrorists wanted to uproot us – we will uproot them while deepening our roots. We will build the Land of Israel and protect our country,” it added, as quoted by the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS). 

The Envelope, a buffer zone within 7 kilometers of the land borders with the Strip, was set to house approximately 55,000 settlers – mainly from Eastern Jewish backgrounds. Most of them left the Gaza Strip in 2005, after the Israeli withdrawal. In response to the increase of tensions which followed, in 2007 the Knesset passed the ‘Assistance to Sderot and the Western Negev (Temporary Provision) Law’ which recognized these and additional communities as ‘Confrontation-line Communities’ and temporarily gave them special privileges, until the end of 2008. Additional legislative measures extended the validity of some of the benefits, with certain changes, until the end of 2014. 

However, the Israeli government has been continuing offering substantial incentives to the Envelope’s residents to ensure its continued existence as a geographical and demographic barrier between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – aiming at preventing the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state.

The funds approved on Wednesday add to the 1.15 billion shekel (303 million dollars) in emergency assistance to border communities that Israeli lawmakers allocated in November as part of last year’s state budget. Among other proposals, the program calls for building a regional agricultural tech hub, an ‘international resilience center’ and a large sports complex. It also proposes to expand Sapir College near Sderot and establish new public transportation routes to Israel’s south. “In the final stage, we can also build and expand,” said the Israeli Prime Minister – vowing to see the border region again “flourishing and safe. There is a national, primary, even historic task here, I would say.”


Search for accountability: According to a report that was published on Israel’s Channel 12 News, the International Criminal Court (ICC) could soon issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in addition to other military and political leaders – representing, if true, a shocking turn of events at the inaction of the Court over the past six months.

On Tuesday, April 9, an emergency meeting occurred at the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, attended by government ministers and legal experts, to discuss strategies to fight and prevent the issuance of arrest warrants for high ranking Israeli officials. Tel Aviv reportedly believes the arrest warrants could be announced imminently, and according to Israeli media reports, Benjamin Netanyahu even raised concerns to British Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, and Germany’s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, in a meeting that occurred earlier this week. 

South Africa recently filed its case, accusing Israel of committing violations of the Genocide convention, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which deals with crimes committed at the level of state. While the unanimous decision of the ICJ’s judges recognized that there is a plausible case of Israel committing Genocide in Gaza, the final ruling of the court could take many years.

However, the International Criminal Court (ICC), governed by the Rome Statute, is the highest legal body in the world that is capable of handing out arrest warrants for individuals involved in violations of international law. However, while the ICC officially opened a probe into what it called possible war crimes, committed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in March of 2021, dismay has been expressed by a number of think tanks and legal experts over the past six months, after no solid action appears to have been taken by the court.

At the same time, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to announce sanctions against the Israeli military’s Netzah Yehuda battalion – formed as a special unit for ultra-orthodox soldiers, all of whose members are men – for human rights violations in the occupied West Bank within days, Axios reported on Saturday, citing three US sources. Over the years, the unit stationed in the West Bank became a destination for many ‘Hilltop Youth’ – young radical right wing settlers who weren’t accepted into any other combat unit in the IDF, the report reads. The US State Department started investigating the Netzah Yehuda battalion in late 2022 after its soldiers were involved in several incidents of violence against Palestinian civilians, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported at the time.

Commenting on the American decision, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on X that the intention to impose the measures “as our soldiers are fighting the monsters of terror” is the “height of absurdity and a moral low” and that his government will “act by all means against these moves.”


No tech for genocide: Alphabet Inc.’s Google has terminated 28 employees following their participation in protests against Project Nimbus, a 1.2 billion dollars joint contract with Amazon Inc. to supply the Israeli government with AI and cloud services, various media reported. The protesters demanded that Google pull out of the ‘Project Nimbus’ contract – in which Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services provide cloud-computing and artificial intelligence services for the Israeli government and army. Some workers received notice from the company’s Employee Relations group that they were being placed on leave, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The protests, organized by the No Tech for Apartheid group, occurred across Google offices in New York City, Seattle, and Sunnyvale, California. In New York and California, protesters staged a nearly 10-hour sit-in, while others documented the event, including through a Twitch livestream. Nine individuals were arrested on trespassing charges.

The former employees “were terminated late Wednesday after an internal investigation,” Google Vice President of Global Security Chris Rackow said in an official statement. The affected employees were informed of their termination on Wednesday evening, as confirmed by a statement from Google staff associated with the No Tech for Apartheid campaign in an official statement –  the latest example of how debates about the genocide in Gaza are rippling across some workplaces.


Call for sanctions: United States senators have written an open letter to US President Joe Biden, calling on him to recognise Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and its leader, General Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo, as violators of human rights. The letter, dated Friday, April 19, follows the one-year anniversary of the war in Sudan between the RSF and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), two rival military factions fighting for control of the country after a coup in 2021.

The lawmakers – giving Biden 120 days to act on the request – cited the US Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act as a basis for sanctions, adding that the RSF and Hemedti’s activities include “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against human rights defenders and persons seeking to expose illegal activity by government officials”. The list of abuses includes accounts of rape, extrajudicial killings, and targeting of journalists, as well as making reference to a December 2023 statement from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the RSF had committed “war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing” since the outbreak of the war last April.

The RSF and SAF have both been accused of attacking civilians and blocking humanitarian aid access over the past year. Ceasefire agreements have collapsed several times and international mediators are still working to achieve conclusive peace talks. Forgotten amidst increasing tensions in the region, Sudan has been left with a major humanitarian crisis while nearly eight million people are displaced and facing shortages of food, water, and medical supplies.


Aftermath: A new report published by rights organsation Amnesty International entitled ‘Aftermath: Injustice, Torture and Death in Detention in North-East Syria’ revealed how people detained following the territorial defeat of the Islamic State (IS) armed group are facing systematic violations in detention in north-east Syria, including torture as well as inhumane conditions that have led to many preventable deaths. 

Amnesty International researchers travelled to northeast Syria on three occasions, between September 2022 and August 2023, to conduct interviews at both camps and in ten detention facilities. The report documents how the region’s autonomous authorities are responsible for the large-scale violation of the rights of more than 56,000 people in their custody. This includes an estimated 11,500 men, 14,500 women, and 30,000 children held in at least 27 detention facilities and two detention camps – Al-Hol and Roj. 

Tackling the role of the US government and US-led coalition in creating and maintaining the system of detention, the aftermath of the territorial defeat of IS, the autonomous authorities’ and US government’s response to the findings, and the challenges faced in the search for justice, the report unveiled how northern Syria’s detention system, created in the aftermath of IS crimes under international law, is violating the rights of tens of thousands of people, providing no justice for committed atrocities and detaining, among those held, the same victims of the Islamic State, including hundreds of Yezidi victims. A large proportion of detained women and girls are victims of forced marriage to IS members, and many detained boys and young men are victims of child recruitment. 


What We’re Reading

Cyber warfare fallout: The long-awaited Iranian retaliation against Israel has weighed on internet connections, as GPS spoofing originating from Israel – in open violation of Article 45 of the ITU – has become the norm. Economist Maan Barazy explored for NOW how Israel has been interfering with Lebanon’s and neighbouring countries’ GPS and communications signals and frequencies, impacting Internet’s speed, Lebanese residents’ privacy, as well as the reliability of Tinders’ profiles.

Between unity and division: Political psychologist Ramzi Abou Ismail explored for NOW paths toward unity or division in Lebanon’s critical choices ahead, knowing that the country’s political landscape is marred by sectarianism, deeply embedded in its political system; that each major religious group holds specific, constitutionally guaranteed political power; and that this system, designed to maintain balance, often fuels competition rather than cooperation among the factions. Amidst the economic meltdown, exacerbated by political paralysis and corruption, which has led to unprecedented levels of poverty and unemployment – further deepening public discontent -, various narratives emerge, reflecting the complexity of Lebanese society.

Max Speed: Americas is thrilled to announce Lebanese-American Max Mokarem as its official driver for the 2024 racing season. At just 12 years of age, Mokarem will compete in prestigious events such as the SKUSA Pro Tour, USPKS, National Stars Championship Series, Supernats, and selected European races.


Lebanon +

Behind the camera: For its 400th episode, Ronnie Chatah’s podcast, The Beirut Banyan, hosted a very special guest: Christina Assi, photojournalist and photo editor at AFP. Covering Christina’s lifelong passion for photojournalism, an initial false comfort of wartime coverage along the Lebanese-Israeli border, surviving the October 13 Israeli attack that took her colleague and beloved friend Issam Abdallah’s life and left Christina with an amputated leg, coping through mental and physical scars and her physical recovery ahead – the conversation highlighted her commitment to the profession of journalism, no matter the consequence.