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Versions of facts

Lebanese Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamiyeh speaks, flanked by Ministers of Ministers of Tourism Walid Nassar (L) and Information Ziad Mekari (R) during a press point during an organised tour at Beirut's international airport on June 24, 2024. Lebanon's Minister of Public Works and Transport denied in a press conference on June 23 that Hezbollah was storing weapons at Beirut airport, as alledged in an article in the British daily The Telegraph, invited ambassadors and journalists to inspect the airport the following morning in a visit "open to all", amid growing fears of all-out war between the militant group and Israel. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

Lebanon denies Telegraph’s report of weapons stockpile at Beirut airport, Germany cancels arrest warrant for Riad Salameh, Hassan Nasrallah threatens Cyprus as tensions with Israel ramp up, Israeli Foreign Minister says decision on all-out war against Hezbollah is near, Hezbollah publishes drone footage claiming to show surveillance of Haifa, Israel have violated laws of war in Gaza, UN rights office says, Israeli tanks push deeper into Rafah, forcing people to flee again, Situation in West Bank drastically deteriorating, US envoy Amos Hochstein in a de-escalation tour to Lebanon, Fake news of European countries withdrawing their ambassadors from Lebanon spreading, Anti-Hezbollah journalist Rami Naim assaulted in broad daylight in Verdun, Beirut, General Security head presses UNHCR for Syrian refugees data, Concrete risk of genocide in the forgotten war of Sudan, Climate change threat hangs over hajj pilgrimage as hundreds perish in heat, Beqaa Valley on fire as heatwave continues to dominate Lebanon, Attacks in the Red Sea resumed as tensions between the Houthis and the US-British coalition do not seem to halt, Cautious calm follows Al-Suwayda clashes, Crimes of the National Union of Syrian Students at Damascus University revealed by new SBC investigations

The Air Transport Union in Lebanon (UTA) has refuted British daily The Telegraph’s report, published on Sunday, June 23, alleging that “Hezbollah stores missiles and explosives at Lebanon’s main airport,” criticizing the claims as unsubstantiated, false and ridiculous. The UTA dismissed The Telegraph’s allegations as “mere illusions and lies aimed at endangering Beirut Airport and its civilian workers, as well as travelers to and from it, all of whom are civilians,” while Lebanon’s caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transport, Ali Hamieh, announced plans to file a lawsuit against the British newspaper, promising to provide more details later.

The Air Transport Union also held the media outlet, along with “those who report on it and spread its falsehoods,” accountable for the safety of all personnel working at Beirut Airport across its facilities, including the passenger terminal, departure and arrival areas, the apron, maintenance, and civil air cargo.

Despite the British Department of Transport – the primary authority responsible for transportation matters – having conducted a field visit to the airport on January 22, 2024, in fact, The Telegraph cited anonymous sources saying the airport had been receiving “unusually big boxes” from Iran, yet admitting they could not see what was inside as they were forbidden from opening them. 

“When they started to come through the airport, my friends and I were scared because we knew that there was something strange going on,” the source was reported saying, adding that the situation is “extremely serious.” According to the so-called whistleblowers, the shipments from Iran increased dramatically since the start of the war in Gaza, leading to fears that the airport could become a military target if full-scale war erupts between Israel and Hezbollah. And they continued: “If they keep bringing in these goods I’m not allowed to check, I really believe I’ll die from the explosion or I’ll die from Israel bombing ‘the goods’,” one of the sources cited by the British outlet said. “It’s not just us, it’s the ordinary people, the people coming in and out, going on holiday. If the airport is bombed, Lebanon is finished.”

However, not only it was not made clear in the report how it was known that the boxes contained weapons, but the daily soon changed the version of its facts, amending the article – once titled ‘Hezbollah stores missiles and explosives at Beirut airport’ – as ‘Beirut airport bosses deny it is being used to store Hezbollah weapons.’ 

The Telegraph’s article also originally cited an anonymous security source from airlines’ trade association, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as saying it had been aware of the stockpiling of weapons for years and that it would ideally “close the airport and have all the weapons and explosives removed.” The newspaper later made a correction to the story that changed the attribution to a “security source at a major international aviation body.” Minister Hamieh hence questioned The Telegraph’s credibility, wondering whether “it is conceivable that a reputable newspaper would change its sources within an hour.”

During Sunday’s press conference, Hamieh read out an email he had received from IATA, stating: “It has come to our attention that a recent Telegraph newspaper article includes a quote attributed to an unnamed IATA source,” a quote “completely false and misattributed,” adding that “IATA has not made and will not make any comment on the situation at Beirut’s international airport.” The association once more emphasized that it does not involve itself in political or security matters in Lebanon and does not provide commentary on such issues.

In its statement, the UTA invited all Lebanese, Arab, and foreign media outlets to visit Beirut Airport “with their camera crews and verify for themselves, otherwise, we consider what is being promoted by suspicious media outlets as incitement to kill us,” denouncing how “Beirut Airport has been subjected to disinformation for years.” 

The call, scheduled for today, Monday, June 24, at 10:30 am, invited all media outlets and ambassadors or their representatives for a tour of all airport facilities to verify that the airport is a strictly civilian infrastructure and that no weapons are being smuggled through it. “We have nothing to hide,” Hamieh maintained.

However, during this morning’s visit, correspondents said that coverage had been stopped at the entrance of the air cargo center. “Media personnel were prevented from entering at the same time as the entry of ambassadors, just to avoid crowding,” Executive Producer for Al-Jadeed Zeina Berjaoui posted on X. While some pointed out that the ban on journalists was to avoid crowding, others raised concerns about poor organization on the site, which led to a problem between one of the photographers and a member of the airport security service, as reporters were allegedly prevented from photographing.


A country’s troubled memory

The rapid spread of the news among the Lebanese people was no coincidence: at least, not among the Lebanese people who remember.

When, in May 2008, Lebanon’s cabinet announced a series of security decisions – following Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt’s revelations on a Hezbollah surveillance camera monitoring the western runway number 17 of Beirut’s airport -, tensions between the pro-government and opposition parties rapidly escalated, leaving between 70 and 110 deaths, together with the unsolved legacy of the Doha Agreement. 

On May 2, sixteen years ago, Jumblatt, a key politician in the ruling March 14 alliance, announced that a remote-controlled camera had been set up in a container park overlooking Beirut international airport’s runway 17, which was frequently being used by March 14 politicians. Fear back then was that the monitoring could be used for a possible attack on March 14’s leaders, as Lebanon had faced a series of political assassinations in recent times. Hezbollah soon dismissed the accusations, calling the allegation a product of the Druze leader’s imagination and accusing those who levelled them of parroting a US campaign against it and other groups which are resisting Israel.

Starting with a security issue concerning the international airport – after the government took the decision to remove Hezbollah’s telecommunications network and dismiss the airport’s head of security, Brigadier General Wafic Shkeir -, May 2008’s conflict was the first time since the Lebanese Civil War that weapons were used by the Shiite group on an internal front.

The tensions that Lebanon is facing in recent months, with an army without sovereign power – just as back then; with the constant threat of an Israeli invasion on the southern front – just as back then; with communities abandoning their trust in national institutions – and directing their insecurities towards the most vulnerable classes – worse than back then; all contribute to dusting off the traumatic memory of a nation without peace. But with an ever-increasing distrust in the future.


In Lebanon

Cancelled: The arrest warrant issued against Riad Salameh, former Banque du Liban (BDL) governor, by a German court over a year ago was annulled on June 10 by the seventh Chamber of the Munich Regional Court, according to a source close to the international cases against Salameh. 

Salameh, 73, was Lebanon’s Central Bank governor for thirty years until July 2023. In his final months as governor, Germany issued an arrest warrant for him on corruption charges.

The cancellation of the judicial measure does not mean that the former governor of the BDL is not still being prosecuted, according to a spokeswoman for the Munich prosecutor’s office interviewed by Reuters. The spokeswoman said the cancellation had come after an appeal from the defendant, and because he no longer held the position of central bank chief – meaning there was “no longer any risk that he will suppress evidence in this function.” She said the regional court of Munich had “confirmed the urgent suspicion with regard to the offences charged against the defendant” and that Germany’s investigations are ongoing.

However, Salameh still faces an arrest warrant in France as part of its own investigation into whether he embezzled public funds, as well as a resultant Interpol red notice.


Warning Cyprus: Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah delivered a speech on Wednesday, June 19, at a memorial for senior commander Taleb Sami Abdullah ‘Hajj Abu Taleb,’ broadcast from the Mujtaba Complex in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Abu Taleb, the highest-ranking Hezbollah commander killed since fighting began on October 8, was killed in an Israeli strike on Jwaya, Tyre, the previous week.

Nasrallah’s speech followed a week of escalations along the southern border, including a strike on Jenata that killed two and injured 19, the highest casualty count since the beginning of hostilities. The week also saw increasing threats from Israeli officials, including a warning from Israeli Minister Israel Kantz to destroy Hezbollah in what he threatened to be a “total war.”

Hezbollah’s Secretary-General added in his speech that the Iran-backed group has “information that Israel is conducting training in Cyprus and Cypriots airports,” and he warned: “if Israel uses the Cypriot air bases to strike Lebanon, Cyprus will get dragged to the war.”

The conditions for a cessation of hostilities are clear, Nasrallah argued: “a ceasefire in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen requires one thing: an end to the war in Gaza.”


Above Haifa: Israeli army chief Herzl Halevi stated Wednesday that the Israeli army has identified the asset Hezbollah used to film footage of Haifa’s port – following the group’s release of a video on Tuesday claiming to have used a drone for the footage.

“We are preparing and building solutions to deal with such capabilities as well as other capacities that, in time, will be deployed when needed,” Halevi said, adding that the Israeli army possesses “infinitely more powerful capabilities.”

The broadcast of the nine-minutes footage, which included images of sensitive sites and civilian neighborhoods, was widely interpreted as a veiled threat against Haifa and comes as cross-border exchanges continue between the two sides.  Distribution of the video was flagged up by the Lebanese group, including on its Telegram channel, advising viewers on several channels to “watch and analyze” what it said were “important scenes.”

The decision to broadcast the footage, moreover, which had images of residential and military sites in and around Haifa, including port facilities, appeared aimed as much at an Israeli audience as at a wider international one. It appeared to show parts of a factory belonging to Rafael defense – including Iron Dome batteries, rocket engine depots, David’s Slingshot facilities and radar.


Hochstein in Beirut: In addition, Hezbollah’s disclosure of the drone footage appeared to be timed to coincide with the visit of the US envoy Amos Hochstein to Lebanon after meeting senior Israeli officials, including the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the day before.

In Beirut, Hochstein called for the “urgent” de-escalation of cross-border exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and Israeli forces raging since the start of the Gaza war. “The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah has gone on for long enough,” the presidential envoy said. “It’s in everyone’s interest to resolve it quickly and diplomatically – that is both achievable and urgent.”

Despite Hochstein’s visit to the region, there appeared to be little evidence of a breakthrough in efforts to reduce tension on the boundary between Israel and Lebanon. Reports in Israel have suggested Hochstein did not see any prospect for significant movement while the war in Gaza was continuing.

After several days of relative quiet between Israel and Hezbollah over the weekend, after last week’s barrages which included the heaviest of the war, there was a rise in hostilities again since Tuesday. 


Jumblatt in Amman: Meanwhile, King Abdullah II of Jordan received former President of the Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, for a meeting on regional developments, warning against widening conflict in the region, while stressing the importance of Lebanon’s stability and security’s maintenance, the Royal Hashemite Court posted on X on Sunday, June 23.


Stampede alarm: Amidst these tensions, Kuwait on Friday urged its citizens to leave Lebanon “as soon as possible,” while Canada said it is preparing for the potential evacuation of 45,000 of its citizens from the country amid growing fears of a wider conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

Also North Macedonia urged its nationals in Lebanon to depart “at the first possible opportunity” due to the “deteriorating security situation,” a statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated on Sunday, also advising against “non-essential travel” to the country, citing concerns that the situation may deteriorate further, limiting departure options.

Meanwhile, fake news of European and Western countries – including Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain – withdrawing their ambassadors from Lebanon, are spreading. Caretaker Minister of Information Ziad Makary clarified that certain websites broadcast unfounded news, as part of the psychological warfare often used and fueled by Israel through various means.

The Ministry of Information urged all media outlets, social media platforms, and bloggers to exercise caution and maintain professionalism in verifying news sources before sharing information, especially during this critical period, based on national responsibility above all.

“Relying on the commitment of Lebanese media to standards of accuracy, reliability, and transparency, it emphasizes that it will not tolerate the spread of fabricated news to thwart attempts at misinformation and intimidation. It also points out that anyone who disseminates such news without verification unknowingly contributes to creating tension by spreading falsehoods,” the Ministry announced.


Fragmented country: Mufti Ahmad Kabalan, head of Lebanon’s highest Shiite religious council and closely associated with Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, said last week that “the national interest of Christians is paramount above all considerations, and that the events unfolding on the southern front contribute to their survival,” according to the state-run National News Agency.

On the other side, the head of the Maronite church Bechara al-Rai has repeatedly called for greater efforts to prevent Lebanon from being dragged into war, as Hezbollah and Israel are engaged in deadly fighting on the Lebanese-Israeli border. Head of the Free Patriotic Movement Gebran Bassil had also urged several times against Lebanon being involved in the conflict. In April he said that “anyone who thinks he can control the Lebanese and defeat Israel is deluding himself.”


Assaulted: Rami Naim, a journalist known for opposing Hezbollah, was assaulted in broad daylight on Tuesday, June 18, in the neighborhood of Verdun, Beirut, by about twenty armed men he claims are affiliated with the ‘party of God.’ Contacted by Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour, Hezbollah denied any involvement in the assault.

“This is a clear attempt at murder in broad daylight in Verdun. My great crime is having a stance against Hezbollah. In Lebanon, having an opinion is a crime. We are heading not towards Wilayat al-Faqih – a Shiite Islamic doctrine that gives full religious and political power to a religious leader – but towards North Korea,” Naim said in a video posted on Instagram. “I was savagely assaulted and beaten with a weapon. A gun was put to my head, and my friend was threatened with a gun to his stomach while bystanders watched. I was told, ‘We will kill anyone who talks about Hezbollah’,” added Naim, who runs the news site al-Siyasa.

Later on Friday, he posted the video of the assault, adding that as soon as they arrive we will also show the videos inside the café. “To all Hezbollah agents,” he wrote, “including well-known journalists, you will not stop us from telling the truth when you lied. Every journalist was insulted by the video; every owner of a media organisation, every human being is free, every Lebanese is honourable, every citizen of the state. Our weapons of speech are your weapons of slander.”

According to MTV, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati quickly responded to the incident and asked Justice Minister Henri Khoury to handle the case. Press Club Lebanon condemned the assault on Wednesday, calling on security services “to identify and prosecute the attackers,” according to a statement from the National News Agency. The club praised Mikati’s response and emphasized “the need to respect press freedom and freedom of opinion.”

Earlier in April, Naim was arrested by the Lebanese Army for having said, commenting on the double standards he claims the country’s security forces use in dealing with people close to Hezbollah and others in the country, “let the security forces make a mistake in an area that I am in; we will shoot at the security forces and the Lebanese Army, either we get treated like them [Hezbollah] or we will disobey all of these security forces.”


Collecting Syrian data: Lebanon’s General Security will collect “complete data from Syrians in Lebanon itself at its centres when they come to submit the required documents needed for obtaining the legal Lebanese residency permit if the UN agency for refugees, UNHCR, does not submit the required data the state is asking for,” interim head of General Security Elias Baissari told L’Orient Today on Thursday.

Baissari said on Wednesday, in a meeting chaired by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail, that Lebanese authorities had requested once again that UNHCR provide complete data on Syrian refugees, or “we will resort to Plan B to obtain it ourselves.”

The residency permit, which needs to be renewed almost yearly, is mandatory for UNHCR to officially register Syrian refugees. “So if UNHCR insists that it will not give us the full data, we will ask for it ourselves when they come to the General Security’s centers, and if they refuse to give it, we will not issue the residence permit, which means they will be living illegally in Lebanon and the government can then take action against them,” Baissari explained to the Lebanese daily. 

On June 14, after a cabinet meeting, caretaker Minister of Information Ziad Makari had said that the data handed over to the Lebanese State by UNHCR in Lebanon was “incomplete,” lacking an “essential component,” namely “the date of entry of these refugees into Lebanese territory.” 

However,  as of 5 May 2015, the UNHCR official website reads, “Syrian nationals can no longer register with UNHCR.  Registration for Syrians has been suspended until further notice. While you can contact UNHCR for an interview, please note that you will not be given a registration certificate. The suspension for registration does not affect non-Syrians in Lebanon.”

UNHCR and the Lebanese Government reached a data-sharing agreement on August 8 last year. In line with the agreement, UNHCR effected a one-off transfer of basic biodata of Syrian refugees in Lebanon in December 2023. 

On its side, the Lebanese government has committed to not using any shared data for purposes contrary to international law, reaffirming its commitment to the principle of non-refoulment and its obligations under international law – although since May the General Security has announced a series of restrictive measures aimed at “containing and regulating the issue of Syrians present in Lebanon,” at a time when the country is facing an upsurge in xenophobic acts against them, and the resumption of “voluntary returns” of Syrians to their country – which international organizations criticize as illegal, viewing them as disguised expulsions.


Beqaa on fire: The Lebanese Civil Defense managed to put out, on Wednesday at dawn, a fire that had broken out the prior evening on the outskirts of Ferzol, in the Beqaa Valley. A Civil Defense official in Ferzol said the fire broke out at 8pm on Tuesday and was extinguished at 1am on Wednesday. 

The fire would have decimated 100,000 square meters, or ten hectares, of fruit trees, notably cherry trees, continued the official who believed that it could be of criminal origin, given that it started in the evening when the temperatures were lower than during the day.

As the heat wave continues to dominate Lebanon, the fire danger index continues to rise sharply in the majority of Lebanese areas. The causes of the latter of these are unclear, but the combination of drought and high temperatures creates favorable conditions for such fires to spread quickly, with current environmental and climatic pressures contributing to their increased frequency and severity.

A major fire broke out in the bush on the eastern edge of Aydamoun, in the Akkar region, on Friday, June 7, and quickly spread to the village’s olive groves. Some residents living on the outskirts of the town have been evacuated from their homes. The flames spread to oak forests, orchards and agricultural fields, and threatened several houses, electricity poles and cables. 


In The Region 

Not a ceasefire: “When is a ceasefire not a ceasefire? According to the Israeli army, when it’s a ‘local, tactical pause of military activity for humanitarian purposes’.” This is how the BBC commented on the announcement made on June 16 by the IDF that it wants to temporarily stop its operations in an area of ​​the southern Gaza Strip to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. The decision was made public the day after the death of eleven Israeli soldiers, including eight in a bomb explosion in the besieged Strip.

The army said the pause will be observed every day between 8am and 7pm “until further notice” along the road connecting Kerem Shalom – the border crossing between the Strip and southern Israel – with the Salah al Din street, which crosses the territory from north to south, up to the eastern outskirts of Rafah and north towards the Khan Yunis area. The announcement was immediately criticized by far-right ministers in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which led the army to clarify that fighting in the southern Strip is not suspended and that there will be no changes in the flow of humanitarian aid.

The fact that this announcement has proved so explosive highlights the increasingly fraught situation of Israel’s Prime Minister, caught between the costs of his vague and so far unattainable military goals of dismantling Hamas and bringing home the hostages, and the political allies he relies on to stay in power.


Ongoing onslaught: However, the ‘pause’ that the Israeli military had declared in Gaza to facilitate aid flows has had no impact on deliveries of the badly-needed aid, the UN’s Health Agency said on Friday. “So overall, the UN can say that we did not see an impact on the humanitarian supplies coming in since that, I will say, unilateral announcement of this technical pause,” said Richard Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization representative in the Palestinian territories. “That is the overall assessment.”

In addition, at least 42 people were killed in Israeli attacks on districts of Gaza City in the north of the enclave on Saturday, the director of the Hamas-run government media office said. One Israeli strike on houses in Al-Shati, one of the Gaza Strip’s eight historic refugee camps, killed 24 people, Ismail Al-Thawabta told Reuters. Another 18 Palestinians were killed in a strike on houses in the Al-Tuffah neighborhood, while on Friday, the Gaza Health Ministry said at least 25 Palestinians were killed in Mawasi in western Rafah and 50 wounded. Palestinians said a tank shell hit a tent housing displaced families.

Footage obtained by Reuters showed dozens of Palestinians rushing out to search for victims amid the destroyed houses. The footage showed wrecked homes, blasted walls, and debris and dust filling the street in Shati refugee camp.

More than eight months into the war, Israel’s advance is now focused on the two last areas its forces had yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza’s southern edge and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the center.


Israel divided: Anshel Pfeffer confirmed on Israeli newspaper Haaretz that disagreements between Netanyahu and the army over the management of the war in Gaza are intensifying: and the rifts do not only concern the military and political leaders, but the entire Israeli society, as demonstrated by the thousands of people who took to the streets in Jerusalem on the evening of June 17 to demand early elections and protest against Netanyahu’s management of the war and his inability to free dozens of hostages still in the hands of Hamas.

According to some political analysts, the dissolution of the war cabinet, confirmed on June 17 by a spokesman for Netanyahu’s office, would also have the aim of hindering far-right ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who they aimed to be part of it from the beginning of the conflict. The cabinet had been established after the Hamas attack on October 7, but, the spokesperson specified, “it no longer has any reason to exist” after the resignation of the centrist Benny Gantz, in controversy with Netanyahu over the conduct of the war. From now on, decisions on war-related issues will be made by the security cabinet, made up of nine ministers in addition to Netanyahu.


Humanitarian catastrophe: Media highlight the increase in international pressure on Israel to speed up the delivery of aid to the Strip where, according to the United Nations, famine level has been reached. Human rights organizations reported that the north of the territory, where the Israeli offensive began, is particularly difficult to reach. Residents in northern Gaza are in fact facing a lack of water as the Israeli forces “have destroyed all wells,” according to the Northern Gaza Emergency Committee, as reported by Al Jazeera.

Three crossings are currently used to transfer humanitarian aid from Israel to the inhabitants of the northern Strip: Western Erez and Eastern Erez, opened in early May, and Gate 96, a military crossing to the Netzarim corridor, in the center of the Strip, used for the first time in March to deliver aid. In the south of the Palestinian territory, in addition to the Kerem Shalom crossing, there is the Nitzana crossing with Egypt, used to inspect some trucks. The Rafah crossing, between the Strip and Egypt, the main entrance for aid since the start of the offensive, has remained closed since May 7, when the Israeli army took control of the Palestinian side.

In addition to land crossings, in recent months aid to the Palestinian population has been parachuted from the sky by some nations, while the United States has decided to build a temporary pier which has been defined as an “unbelievable fiasco.” Presented on March 7 by US President Joe Biden as a solution to circumvent Israeli bans – the cargoes would arrive by sea from Cyprus – and costing 300 million dollars, the pier was operational for about ten days in total, allowing the he arrival of a quantity of basic necessities that barely covers one day of the humanitarian needs of the inhabitants of Gaza. Due to construction delays and snags, the pier only came into operation on May 17, immediately having to deal with the problem of the looting of the loads during transport to the depots of the World Food Programme, responsible for distribution to the population by the UN. Then the pier was put out of action by a storm surge on May 25. It returned to operation on June 8 and less than a week later it was transferred back to an Israeli port due to “structural damage.”

In addition, the UN raised “serious concerns” about the Israeli army’s compliance with the laws of war, in an investigation published on June 19 into six “emblematic” bombings in the Gaza Strip last year that left at least 218 people dead. “The obligation to choose means and methods of warfare that avoid, or at least minimize to the greatest extent possible, harm to civilians appears to have been systematically violated during Israel’s bombing campaign,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk.


Violence on the rise: The UN Human Rights chief also denounced that Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem are suffering a drastically worsening human rights environment, alongside “unconscionable death and suffering” in the Gaza Strip. “The situation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is dramatically deteriorating,” Volker Turk told the opening session of the UN Human Rights Council, as reported by Reuters.

Turk said that from the start of the Gaza war in October through mid-June, 528 Palestinians, 133 of them children, had been killed by Israeli security forces or settlers in the West Bank, in some cases raising “serious concerns of unlawful killings,” not to mention the arbitrary detention of thousands. 23 Israelis have also been killed in the West Bank and Israel in clashes with or attacks by Palestinians, he added.

The West Bank, where the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule under Israeli occupation, has seen the worst unrest for decades, in parallel with the war in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas.


The Red Sea front: Explosions were reported near a ship east of the Yemeni port city of Aden on Friday, Britain’s maritime safety agency UKMTO reported. The agency, which did not identify the vessel, said the ship was able to continue its journey and “the crew are reported safe.”

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi have been targeting vessels in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden since November 2023 in attacks they claim are in solidarity with Palestinians during the Israeli onslaught in the Gaza Strip – while being engaged in a long-running civil war that has triggered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. More than half of the Yemeni population, in fact, is dependent on aid in the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country.

The attacks have prompted reprisal strikes by US and British forces and the formation of an international coalition to protect the vital shipping lanes through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.

The US military announced on Thursday that it had destroyed four Houthi nautical drones and two aerial ones over the Red Sea off Yemen. Washington also called on the Houthis to release humanitarian workers detained earlier this month.


Unspoken war: Since a power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted into civil war on April 15, 2023, the two sides have plunged Sudan into a devastating crisis. Some 10 million people are displaced – the highest figure in the world – and famine-like conditions are taking hold across the country, Al Jazeera correspondent reported.

About 756,000 people are facing “catastrophic levels of hunger” with an additional 25.6 million people facing acute food shortages, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, the United Nations’ hunger-level scale. As a result, people are moving, seeking physical safety and enough food to sustain life, and more than 600,000 have ended up in Chad, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many are barely surviving, dependent on food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP).

However, a lack of funding has forced the WFP to reduce food assistance, cutting refugees’ daily calories by nearly 20 percent over the last two months, according to Vanessa Boi, WFP emergency officer in Chad. With only 19 percent of WFP’s funding calls met by donor countries and more and more refugees crossing into Chad from Darfur daily, the UN agency may have to reduce food assistance to each refugee even further.

Amidst this humanitarian catastrophe, the RSF took control of el-Fula, the capital of West Kordofan state, last Thursday. Centrally positioned, el-Fula affords access to regional and national borders, raising concerns the RSF would be able to have, in addition to more control of territory around the country, the complete control of the power station there.

The assault on el-Fula was not surprising, according to local sources, given that the paramilitary group had repeatedly said they were targeting positions of the Sudanese army, not just in the Darfur region – which has been facing a concrete risk of genocide -, but also elsewhere around the country.

The humanitarian response to the Sudanese crisis, one of the worst the world has seen for decades, is deeply inadequate, medical charity Doctors Without Borders denounced in a post on X. It’s likely that with the fighting in el-Fula and with civilians being displaced, the needs of those needing humanitarian assistance will rise.

During the past year, both sides have been accused of war crimes, including deliberately targeting civilians, indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and blocking humanitarian aid, despite warnings that millions are on the brink of starvation. Rights groups and the United States have also accused the paramilitaries of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.


Dying of heat: Nearly 2 million Muslims reached the end of the hajj pilgrimage last week, but extreme heat has proved fatal for hundreds who began the journey last Friday, June 14, to the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca in Saudi Arabia. At least 562 people have died during the hajj, according to a Reuters tally based on foreign ministry statements and sources.

A lack of acclimatization to higher temperature, intense physical exertion, exposed spaces, and an older population makes pilgrims vulnerable. Egypt alone has registered 307 deaths and another 118 missing, medical and security sources told Reuters, as temperatures at times soared past 51 Celsius degrees. An Egyptian medical source, however, told Reuters the highest death tolls were among pilgrims who were not formally registered with hajj authorities and were forced to stay on the streets, exposed to heat.

Climate scientists say such deaths offer a glimpse of what is to come for the tens of millions of Muslims expected in coming decades to undertake the hajj. The timing of the hajj is in fact determined by the lunar year, which sees the pilgrimage move back by ten days annually. While it is now moving towards winter, by the 2040s it will coincide with the peak of summer in Saudi Arabia.

Saeed and Schleussner published a 2021 study in the journal Environmental Research Letters which found that if the world warms by 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels – which is expected to happen in the 2030s -, heat stroke risk for pilgrims on the hajj will be five times greater. 

In 2016, Saudi Arabia published a heat strategy that included constructing shaded areas, establishing drinking water points every 500 meters, and improving healthcare capacity. Saudi health authorities warned pilgrims to stay hydrated and avoid being outdoors between 11am and 3pm during this hajj.


Cautious calm: A cautious calm has prevailed in the Syrian city of Suwayda, after a night of tension that saw violent clashes between local anti-government factions on the one hand, and the security forces and the army on the other, resulting in injuries on both sides, as well as material losses to civilian property. Medical sources confirmed that the rumors spread about the killing of seven members of the Syrian army in the clashes were incorrect.

It was reported by local correspondent from media outlet Suwayda 24 that the mediators of the southern governorate have asked for a temporary calm to resume negotiations with the security services, amid promises from the mediators to seek an agreement that guarantees the withdrawal of the new barrier of security from the Al-Anqoud roundabout side, which is the demand the local protesters insist on, lacking trust in the role of such barriers.

A failure to respond to the locals’ request, a source told Suwayda 24, will open the door to a greater escalation in the coming hours, exceeding the clashes the city witnessed on Sunday evening.

Sunday’s clashes were concentrated in the vicinity of the new checkpoint, security centers near it, the Air Force Intelligence Division and the headquarters of the Baath party, with confrontations extending to the town of Qanawat, and the road being subjected to numerous rocket attacks.

Negotiations will continue in the coming hours, potentially leading either to an agreement ending the tension by removing the checkpoint and withdrawing personnel to their barracks, or plunging the area into unforeseeable violence consequences if Damascus government security officials remain adamant about not withdrawing the checkpoint, according to the local outlet.


Militias on campus: A new investigation by the Syrian British Consortium (SBC) revealed shocking violations committed by members of the National Union of Syrian Students (NUSS) against their colleagues at the University of Damascus.

The NUSS long held a surveillance role within Syrian universities: post-2011, it assumed additional roles to stifle anti-regime sentiment on campuses, including patrolling university grounds for anti-regime activity, violently clamping down against student activism, arresting and torturing students, and handing students over to security services. Through 20 in-depth interviews with former students, professors, and NUSS members, SBC’s investigation reveals the range of crimes committed by the NUSS at the University of Damascus as well as the group’s extensive cooperation and coordination with Syrian State security services between the spring of 2011 and the end of 2013.

According to the investigation, NUSS members engaged in “insane” torture sessions against their colleagues, including punching, kicking, and beating them with thick plastic pipes. They also threatened students with scalding by hot water, forcing them to stand on their tiptoes, and slapping them over the ears until they passed out.

The Consortium will submit its report to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria at the United Nations (IIIM).


What We’re Reading

The tipping point: Lebanon public servants have totally embraced the ​​“gratuities” system, Maan Barazy explored for NOW, tackling corruption in Lebanese institutions and its devastating impact on the economy. According to the economist’s analysis, while tipping may grease the wheels of Lebanon’s bureaucratic machine, it also perpetuates a cycle of dependency and inequality. 


A lost Eid: Lebanon’s ever-spiraling economic crisis, political instability and war in the south means that celebrating Eid al-Adha has become an afterthought for many with thousands of families displaced and 44 per cent of the population living in poverty. Rodayna Raydan reported for NOW stories from south Lebanon’s lost Eid.


In Netanyahu’s hands: The Middle East finds itself on a knife’s edge, with Israel at the center of a potential storm, political psychologist Ramzi Abou Ismail wrote for NOW. At the heart of this tumult is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose decisions could steer the region towards peace or into the abyss of war. Both domestic pressures and international scrutiny are mounting, making his leadership more pivotal than ever. 


Capitalizing on Palestinian invisibility: NOW’s Valeria Rando wrote about drug trafficking and false narratives surrounding Palestinian refugee camps in the country, analyzing how Lebanon’s drug dealers exploit the exceptional spaces of Palestinian refugee camps to escape the authorities’ control.


Lebanon +

Hugo Goodridge’s latest episode on The New Arab Weekly podcast tackled the dissolution of Israel’s war cabinet with and the ceasefire deal negotiations to end the war in Gaza, the clashes between Israel and Hezbollah and the rising fears that Israel is about to launch an offensive against Lebanon, and the recent heatwave that has hit Hajj pilgrims that has killed over a thousand people.