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Lebanon: Syrian refugees endure more floods from new storm

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon – Syrian refugees in Lebanon are enduring yet another heavy storm, bringing more rains and snowfall to the camps in the country’s eastern and northern regions.  Warnings of the winter storm have pushed refugees in Ghazze, a town in the Bekaa Valley, to take precautions against the floods, days after the country…

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Lebanon: Syrian refugees endure more floods from new storm

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon – Syrian refugees in Lebanon are enduring yet another heavy storm, bringing more rains and snowfall to the camps in the country’s eastern and northern regions. 

Warnings of the winter storm have pushed refugees in Ghazze, a town in the Bekaa Valley, to take precautions against the floods, days after the country was hit by Storm Norma on January 6.

Lebanon is home to more than one million Syrian refugees, most of whom live in informal settlements made out of tarpaulin tents supported by wooden frames.

They are usually required to pay landowners rent ranging from $50 to $200, depending on the area, even as half of the Syrian refugee community in Lebanon already lives in extreme poverty, earning less than $3 a day, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

WATCH: Lebanon – Winter storm adds to Syrian refugees’ suffering (02:00)

During last week’s storm, many have found shelter in incomplete housing units, garages, or evacuated schools as the country does not permit them to upgrade their tents to more permanent structures.

‘The tent was our castle’

In Ghazze, refugees are housed in at least 1,500 tents divided over several unofficial camps, according to municipality figures published last year. In one camp, dubbed “008” by the UN, at least 36 out of 48 tents were flooded during Storm Norma.

While some families in Ghazze say they have no other option than to withstand the upcoming storm, others have already sought temporary shelter.

Wessal Al Mustafa, a mother of five, said she simply cannot put her children through a storm similar to Norma, which affected more than 11,000 Syrian refugees across the country. “The last storm was so sudden,” Al Mustafa, who fled Raqqa in 2014, told Al Jazeera.

“I barely managed to rush my children out of the tent, let alone grab a few clothing items before we were completely soaked,” the 32-year-old said.

“To us, this tent was our castle.”

Mustafa says she and her children were forced to leave behind the little they owned [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera] 

The family lost their mattresses, blankets, food items, and most of their clothing to the floods.

Their tent carried a stench of mold that has forced the Al Mustafa family to seek temporary, yet more expensive shelter in a nearby housing complex until the tent is restored.

The camps lack adequate infrastructure, and given the poor sewage systems, wastewater has overflowed and seeped into the tents, increasing the risk of diseases in the crammed settlements.

Since the arrival of the refugees from neighbouring Syria, NGOs have taken the responsibility of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) efforts, but in Ghazze these efforts have been halted due to lack of funding.

Mustafa’s eldest daughter, Fatma, said she wishes she could have saved more of her clothes from the floods.

“I had to carry my younger sister, who was in shock as the water quickly filled up the tent and reached our hips,” the 14-year-old said.

‘Sheer negligence’

There has been a stark deterioration in shelter conditions for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, according to a 2018 UN study.

Fundraising campaigns led by NGOs and individuals may bring temporary relief to refugees, but Syrians in Ghazze say more is needed to be done by the government to improve living conditions.

The camp’s community leader told Al Jazeera that he has already mobilised a team of “young men” who will be assisting in evacuating families with flooded tents to neighbouring camps that have remained unaffected, and garages in the area.

“We have called on the local municipality time and time again to at least raise the ground level of the tents here, but they have yet to respond,” Hussam Mansour told Al Jazeera.

“It’s sheer negligence on their part,” he said.

Many families sought shelter in an education centre run by Syrians [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera] 

According to Mansour, some NGOs arrived on Saturday to distribute blankets and mattresses, as well as gas for heaters.

The main highway connecting the capital Beirut to the Bekaa Valley had been sealed off to trucks transporting aid, and was only been cleared for the passage of such larger vehicles by authorities on Saturday.

‘Nothing to return to’

Meanwhile, an education centre run by a group of Syrian women will be open as a temporary shelter for families evacuated in Ghazze.

Ghada Abu Mito, cofounder of Dammah, the NGO that runs the school, said the centre has begun preparing for the next storm by clearing classrooms for families who will require immediate shelter.

“We laid out blankets and mattresses in the classrooms, and will also heat the rooms which is important especially for the children,” Abu Mito told Al Jazeera.

Last week, some 13 families sought shelter in the centre, Abu Mito said.

“We had to respond to the crisis quickly and accommodated 75 people for about four days,” she said, adding almost all of those who evacuated suffered flu symptoms and chest infections, she said.

“Their psychological state was a mess,” she added. “Many wondered why no one rushed to help.”

 Lebanon has always said it wants Syrian refugees to return to Syria [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Lebanon’s leaders have urged Syrian refugees to return to their home country, but many refugees still fear being either arrested or drafted into the army upon repatriation.

UNHCR’s Rana Khoury told Al Jazeera the agency has been advocating for either the resettlement of refugees to a third countries, or working with concerned authorities to remove obstacles refugees are seeing for their return to Syria.

“We’re advocating for these two solutions because the government does not allow for permanent resettlement,” Khoury explained.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are unable to work, and can only obtain work permits to work in agriculture and construction to sustain themselves in the country, which has suffered economically over the years.

The prolonged political deadlock over the formation of a new government has also worsened the situation.

Still, for people such as Wessal Al Mustafa, staying in Lebanon amid challenges such as the harsh winters, is the only option.

“I love my country … but for now, there is nothing to return to,” she said.

Al Jazeera World: Beirut’s Refugee Artists (46:43)

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’ into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years. Richard Moore, who…

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UK spy chief warns China, Russia racing to master AI

MI6 chief Richard Moore says Beijing and Moscow ‘pouring money’
into technological advances that will reshape espionage and geopolitics.The chief of the United Kingdom’s foreign spy service is to warn that China and Russia are racing to master artificial intelligence in a way that could revolutionise geopolitics over the next 10 years.
Richard Moore, who heads the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, is due to make his first public speech since becoming chief of the organisation on Tuesday.
In extracts of the speech released in advance by the British government he will say quantum engineering, engineered biology, vast troves of data and advances in computer power pose a threat that needs to be addressed by democratic powers.
“Our adversaries are pouring money and ambition into mastering artificial intelligence, quantum computing and synthetic biology, because they know that mastering these technologies will give them leverage,” Moore, who rarely makes public speeches, will say when he sets out his view of current threats.
The world’s spies are trying to grapple with seismic advances in technology that are challenging traditional human-led spying operations, which have dominated espionage for thousands of years.
Moore, a former diplomat, became MI6 chief in October 2020.
Speaking at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies think tank, he will stress that technological progress over the next decade could outstrip all the tech advances made over the past century.
“As a society, we have yet to internalise this stark fact and its potential impact on global geopolitics. But it is a white-hot focus for MI6,” he will say.
Of particular concern to the spies in the world’s liberal democracies are Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies, which have rushed to harness the power of a range of sophisticated technologies, sometimes at a faster pace than in the West.
Western intelligence agencies fear Beijing could dominate all key emerging technologies within decades, particularly artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and genetics.
China’s economic and military rise over the past 40 years is considered one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, which ended the Cold War.
MI6, depicted by novelists as the employer of some of the most memorable fictional spies from John le Carré’s George Smiley to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, operates overseas and is tasked with defending the UK and its interests.
Moore says the service will have to give up some of its deep-rooted secrecy and work with technology firms to combat the rapidly developing threats.
MI6 and western intelligence agencies will have to “become more open to stay secret” in a world of destabilising technological change, he will say.
“We cannot hope to replicate the global tech industry, so we must tap into it.”
The agency has become more open in recent years, even allowing publication of an authorised history although it only covers the period up until 1949.
MI6 began publicly naming its chief, who uses the code name C and is the only publicly identifiable member of the organisation, in the 1990s.

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final…

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Pentagon to review deadly 2019 US bombings in Syria

US will look into whether procedures were followed after NY Times reported dozens of civilians were killed in bombings.United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has ordered a review into US military bombings in Syria in March 2019 that the New York Times recently reported killed dozens of civilians during the battle for the final stronghold of ISIL (ISIS).
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby announced the probe on Monday, saying it would be led by General Michael Garrett, the head of US Army Forces Command.
Earlier this month, the US military acknowledged that civilians may have been killed in the bombings in Baghouz, near the Iraqi border in 2019. At the time, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were leading the fight on the ground with American air support.
“Likely a majority of those killed were also combatants at the time of the strike. However, it is also highly likely that there were additional civilian casualties,” Bill Urban, a US military spokesman, said in a statement on November 14.
He added that “investigations were unable to conclusively characterize the status of more than 60 other casualties that resulted from these strikes”.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the review into the 2019 US military bombings, the Pentagon spokesman announced [File: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo]Urban’s statement came a day after the New York Times, citing anonymous sources and classified documents,  published a report that accused the US military of concealing the bombings.
The newspaper reported that the bombing struck a “crowd of women and children”, killing 64 people.
“Without warning, an American F-15E attack jet streaked across the drone’s high-definition field of vision and dropped a 500-pound bomb on the crowd, swallowing it in a shuddering blast. As the smoke cleared, a few people stumbled away in search of cover. Then a jet tracking them dropped one 2,000-pound bomb, then another, killing most of the survivors,” the Times wrote.
On Monday, Kirby said the review would look into “record keeping and reporting procedures” and “whether mitigation measures identified in previous investigations into the incident were in fact implemented effectively”.
The probe, which is due in 90 days, will also assess whether “accountability measures” will be appropriate, Kirby added.
The US-led coalition started a bombing campaign against the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria and Iraq in 2014, and the American military maintains troops in both countries with the stated goal of preventing the group’s resurgence.

Former US President Donald Trump touted the territorial defeat of ISIL (ISIS) as a major policy achievement in his failed 2020 re-election bid.
Rights groups previously accused the US-led coalition of killing civilians during their bombing campaign. A 2019 investigation by Amnesty International, for instance, found that the coalition had killed 1,600 civilians in Raqqa, the ISIL (ISIS) group’s former de-facto capital.
The Associated Press news agency reported on Monday that after the New York Times story was published, Austin received a briefing on the Syria bombings from General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command.
AP reported that McKenzie’s command said “an initial investigation concluded that the strike constituted legitimate self-defence in support of Syrian partner forces under fire from ISIL”.
The probe into the Syria bombings comes after the Pentagon admitted in September that a US drone attack previously described as “righteous” by a top general had killed 10 civilians, including children, in Kabul during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But a subsequent internal review by the Pentagon concluded that the bombing did not violate the laws of war or amount to criminal conduct or negligence, prompting outrage.

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians. The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with…

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Arab Coalition carries out 15 strikes against Houthi militants in Marib

JEDDAH: An influential watchdog body of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine as the only way to stop ongoing human rights abuses against Palestinians.

The OIC’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission made its appeal on Monday to coincide with the UN-run International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People 2021.

In a statement, the IPHRC pointed out that the solidarity day highlighted the urgent need for the global community to recognize the inalienable right to self-determination of Palestinian people.

“Today is not only an opportunity for the international community to remember that the question of Palestine remains unresolved, but it is also an opportunity to focus attention on the increasing suffering of the Palestinian people, under the Israeli occupation, and to unify all efforts for assisting them to attain their fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination and the right to return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and property, from which they have been displaced,” the commission said.

It also expressed grave concerns over the increasing, “range of violations committed by Israel … particularly the recent draconian measures against Palestinian prisoners and detainees as well as the harassment of Sheikh Jarrah (neighborhood of East Jerusalem) families who remain under the threat of eviction from their houses under baseless and illegal arguments.”

The IPHRC statement urged all human rights groups to raise awareness of what it described as “egregious human rights violations” aimed at “separating Al-Quds (Jerusalem) from its original inhabitants, which is yet another vicious attack on the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

In addition, commission members condemned the recent Israeli designation of six Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations, a move the IPHRC claimed represented Israel’s misuse of counterterrorism and security legislation to silence opponents and innocent Palestinians.

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and forced evictions of residents in Jerusalem and other areas was also slammed by the commission.

It added that there was a “need to investigate these abuses by relevant international mechanisms with a view to holding Israel, the occupying power, accountable for violating international human rights and humanitarian laws.”

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