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Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of ‘apartheid’ crimes against Palestinians

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(Last Updated On: April 27, 2021)

An international rights watchdog accused Israel on Tuesday of pursuing policies of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians – and against its own Arab minority – that amount to crimes against humanity.

New York-based Human Rights Watch published a 213-page report which, it said, was not aimed at comparing Israel with apartheid-era South Africa but rather at assessing “whether specific acts and policies” constitute apartheid as defined under international law.

Israel’s foreign ministry rejected the claims as “both preposterous and false” and accused HRW of harbouring an “anti-Israeli agenda,” saying the group had sought “for years to promote boycotts against Israel”.

Just weeks ago the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it would investigate war crimes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with the Israeli military and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas named as possible perpetrators.

In its report, HRW pointed to Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement and seizure of Palestinian-owned land for Jewish settlement in territory occupied in the 1967 Middle East war as examples of policies it said were crimes of apartheid and persecution.

“Across Israel and the (Palestinian territories), Israeli authorities have pursued an intent to maintain domination over Palestinians by exercising control over land and demographics for the benefit of Jewish Israelis,” the report says.

“On this basis, the report concludes that Israeli officials have committed the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” as defined under the 1973 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute.

BOYCOTT ACCUSATIONS

Israeli officials fiercely object to apartheid accusations.

“The purpose of this spurious report is in no way related to human rights, but to an ongoing attempt by HRW to undermine the State of Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people,” Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton said.

Israel’s foreign ministry said HRW’s Israel programme was being “led by a known (BDS) supporter, with no connection to facts or reality on the ground,” referring to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The report’s author, HRW Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir, was expelled from Israel in 2019 over accusations he backs BDS.

Shakir denies that his HRW work and pro-Palestinian statements he made before being appointed to the HRW post in 2016 constitute active support for BDS.

Shakir told Reuters that HRW would send its report to the ICC prosecutor’s office, “as we normally do when we reach conclusions about the commissions of crimes that fall within the Court’s jurisdiction.”

He said HRW also sent the ICC its 2018 report about possible crimes against humanity by President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and the Islamist militant Hamas.

ICC PROBE

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor said in March that she would formally investigate war crimes in the Palestinian territories, after ICC judges ruled that the court had jurisdiction there.

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the ruling but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced it as anti-Semitism and said Israel does not recognise the court’s authority.

HRW called on the ICC prosecutor to “investigate and prosecute individuals credibly implicated” in apartheid and persecution.

HRW also said Israel’s 2018 “nation state” law – declaring that only Jews have the right of self-determination in the country – “provides a legal basis to pursue policies that favour Jewish Israelis to the detriment” of the country’s 21% Arab minority, who regularly complain of discrimination.

Palestinians seek the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, areas captured in the 1967 conflict, for a future state.

Under interim peace deals with Israel, Palestinians have limited self-rule in the West Bank; Hamas runs Gaza.

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Deputy leader of Taliban faction sustains ‘serious’ injuries in skirmish

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, deputy head of the Taliban splinter group in the western part of the country, was badly injured in a skirmish in Herat province, sources said.

Provincial officials told Ariana News that Niazi was wounded in a skirmish with Taliban militants in the Guzara district of the province.

The sources stated that Niazi, who reportedly is a pro-Taliban commander, is currently hospitalized in Herat’s public hospital.

According to the sources, three of Niazi’s bodyguards were killed in the skirmish.

The Taliban has not commented in this regard.

Niazi was believed to have been Mullah Mohammad Rasool’s deputy – the head of the faction that split from the Taliban in November 2015, following the announcement in July that year that the Taliban’s longtime leader Mullah Omar was dead.

The dissident faction’s announcement was at the time believed to be the first public and official split of the Afghan Taliban since the group formed in the 1990s.

Omar’s deputy at the time was Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, who claimed power — sparking a battle over the group’s leadership.

Rasool and Niazi were among several Taliban commanders who challenged Mansoor’s appointment as leader. Mansoor was leader of the group from 29 July 2015 to 21 May 2016 but was killed in a drone strike by the United States in Pakistan.

Niazi was born 1968 in Pashtoon Zarghoon district, in Herat province and served as governor of Kabul Province under the Taliban regime.

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Barchi residents look back on maternity ward attack, appeal to MSF to return

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

It has been a year since the deadly attack on the maternity ward in a Dasht-e Barchi hospital in Kabul, a year filled with memories of the horror of the attack where gunmen cold-bloodedly gunned down mothers and mothers-to-be, staff and children in a four-hour siege.

But for the people of Dasht-e-Barchi, the attack at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) run maternity ward, and the 24 people killed, including mothers and mothers-to-be, will never be forgotten.

For some local residents, MSF’s decision soon after the attack to withdraw from the hospital left them “shocked and hopeless”.

On Tuesday, Dr Isabelle Defourny, MSF director of operations, said: “Some weeks later, we had to make the difficult choice to withdraw from Dasht-e-Barchi. We knew we would leave behind huge needs.

“For many women in the neighbourhood, our maternity ward was a much-needed resource; 16,000 deliveries had taken place there in 2019 alone. But we couldn’t continue our activity after what happened,” Defourny said.

Thanking MSF for their services at the hospital over the years, one resident in the area, Ahmad Tamim, said on Wednesday: “People will never forget MSF ‘s generous service in its Dasht-e Barchi project and as well the tragic closure of the hospital that left everyone shocked, helpless and hopeless.

“All the people wished you would have continued your assistance in their slum and ghetto area after the attack, but unfortunately your abandonment became another sorrow for them,” he said.

For one MSF employee, Sayed Jawed Hashimi, who hid in a safe room during the attack, the scenes will haunt him for years to come.

“The worst memory ever! And the hardest four hours that we spent in the safe room, under shooting, bombing, and the dead bodies (mothers, babies, care takers, our colleague). What we saw after getting out of safe rooms, was like a nightmare, which takes several years to forget,” he told Ariana News.

Another resident of the area Omulbanin Nabizada, said simply to MSF: “Wish you could stay.”

Yet another appealed to them to resume work in their predominantly Shiite Hazara area.

Mystafa Asghari said: “Please resume your activities.”

Asila Mohammad said to Ariana News: “MSF should resume work in Kabul [in Dasht-e-Barchi] in order to save more mothers and children,” while Asadullah Azimi said: “We were victims and we were deprived of your cooperation for a crime others committed.”

Sakina Amiry, an Afghan journalist, stated: “After the terrorist attack the people have been in desperate need of health services. The hundred-bed hospital [which housed MSF’s maternity ward] now limits services,” she said.

“The maternity ward now only handles normal deliveries. MSF doctors please help those who even do not have bread to eat,” she said.

The maternity ward attack was carried out in the same area that was battered on Saturday in a deadly bombing against a girls school that killed at least 87 people, mostly teenage girls.

But, like many attacks, no group has claimed responsibility for this tragedy.

AFP reported Wednesday that few people in the area expect authorities to track down the perpetrators of the latest carnage — or prevent similar massacres in the future.

The Afghan government has continued to blame the Taliban for the maternity ward attack, but interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian says no arrests were ever made.

The US, however, pinned the blame on the Islamic State group (Daesh).

“No evidence was publicly brought to support those claims,” Defourny told AFP.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Defourny said that while they didn’t think the MSF was specifically targeted, “the first targets of this attack were pregnant women and women in labour in a maternity ward which we ran.”

“We know that the attackers directly headed to the maternity ward and killed the pregnant women and women in labour who were present there. Two children who had come for routine vaccination and another caretaker were also shot dead in the attack. Healthcare staff were also killed and injured,” she said.

“We can’t work in an environment where patients and medical staff are targeted, and where we can’t prevent such a massacre from happening again.

“This attack clearly targeted pregnant women in a maternity ward run by MSF. And the fact-finding exercise confirmed that none of the different parties with whom we have relations in Afghanistan gave us specific alerts on it.

“Our will to continue working in Afghanistan is motivated by the dire medical needs of the Afghan people… but can only continue if minimum conditions of safety are ensured…,” she said.

“When MSF returned to Afghanistan 12 years ago – after we had withdrawn in 2004 following the killing of five of our colleagues – we knew it was one of the most dangerous countries to work in. At that time, our analysis was that it was possible to craft a safe working space for us, by renewing our engagement with all the different parties involved.

“Since then, after the attack on our hospital in Kunduz, and the one on the Dasht-e-Barchi maternity ward, we have to admit that this wasn’t enough. In these two attacks, 66 people were killed – by far the highest number of deaths in our programmes around the world over the last six years.

“Our organisation can’t accept the idea of integrating the loss of our staff or of the patients we treat as part of our work. We maintain our freedom to withdraw and stop our activities when we think that the risk of such severe attacks repeating themselves is too great,” she said.

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Taliban capture key district near Afghan capital

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

Taliban insurgents captured a key district just outside the Afghan capital Kabul in central Maidan Wardak province on Tuesday, forcing government forces to retreat, security officials have confirmed.

The capture of Nerkh district comes amid intensifying violence across the country following an announcement by the Taliban of a three-day ceasefire over Eid-ul Fitr.

Reuters reported that Tariq Arian, an interior ministry spokesman, said government troops made a “tactical retreat” from the district centre, which is a gateway to Kabul, after a heavy firefight with the Taliban.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, wrote on Twitter that they had killed and captured some members of the Afghan security forces after seizing the district. He added that they had also seized a large cache of ammunition.

The Afghan government did not comment on casualties among the security forces.

The Taliban have dug in, in Wardak, which lies less than an hour’s drive west of Kabul, and in nearby Logar province to the south.

Afghan officials say the Taliban have used the provinces – gateways to the capital – as launchpads for hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings on Kabul, Reuters reported.

Abdul Rahman Tariq, Maidan Wardak’s governor confirmed the fall of the district to Ariana News.

“Unfortunately, as a result of a compromise, the Taliban took control of the district yesterday and the security forces made a tactical retreat,” he said.

Deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, Fawad Aman tweeted Wednesday that Afghan commando forces have arrived in Maidan Wardak province.

“Nirkh district will become a Taliban cemetery,” Aman tweeted.

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