COPIAGUE, NY - A Lindenhurst man was arrested after he was caught recklessly driving an ATV on Sunrise Highway in Copiague on Saturday evening, according to Suffolk Police.
CHIBAYISH, Iraq: Thirty years after Saddam Hussein starved them of water, Iraq’s southern marshes are blossoming once more thanks to a wave of ecotourists picnicking and paddling down their replenished river bends.
A one-room home made of elaborately woven palm reeds floats on the river surface. Near it, a soft plume of smoke curls up from a firepit where carp is being grilled, Iraqi-style. A few canoes drift by, carrying couples and groups of friends singing to the beat of drums.
“I didn’t think I would find somewhere so beautiful, and such a body of water in Iraq,” said Habib Al-Jurani.
He left Iraq in 1990 for the US, and was back in his ancestral homeland for a family visit.
“Most people don’t know what Iraq is really like — they think it’s the world’s most dangerous place, with nothing but killings and terrorism,” he said.
Looking around the lush marshes, declared in 2016 to be Iraq’s fifth UNESCO World Heritage site, Jurani added: “There are some mesmerising places.”
Straddling Iraq’s famous Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamian marshes are a rare aquatic ecosystem in a country nearly half of which is covered in cracked desert.
Legend has it, they were home to the biblical Garden of Eden.
But they were also a haven for political opposition to dictator Saddam Hussein, who cut off water to the site in retaliation for the south’s uprising against him in 1991.
Around 90 percent of the once-expansive marshes were drained, and the area’s 250,000 residents dwindled down to just 30,000.
In the ensuing years, severe droughts and decreased water flows from the twin rivers’ source countries — Turkey and Iran — shrunk the marshes’ surface from some 15,000 sq. km. to less than half that. It all culminated with a particularly dry winter last year that left the “ahwar,” as they are known in Arabic, painfully parched.
But heavier rains this year have filled more than 80 percent of the marshes’ surface area, according to the UN, compared to just 27 percent last year.
That has resurrected the ancient lifestyle that dominated this area for more than 5,000 years.
“The water returned, and with it normal life,” said 35-year-old Mehdi Al-Mayali, who raises water buffalo and sells their milk, used to make rich cream served at Iraqi breakfasts.
Wildlife including the vulnerable smooth-coated otter, Euphrates softshell turtles, and Basra reed warbler have returned to the marshlands — along with the pickiest of all species: Tourists.
Straddling Iraq’s famous Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamian marshes are a rare aquatic ecosystem in a country nearly half of which is covered in cracked desert. Legend has it, they were home to the biblical Garden of Eden.
“Ecotourism has revived the ‘ahwar.’ There are Iraqis from different provinces and some foreigners,” Mayali said.
A day in the marshes typically involves hiring a resident to paddle a large reed raft down the river for around $25 — not a cheap fare for Iraq. Then, lunch in a “mudhif” or guesthouse, also run by locals.
“Ecotourism is an important source of revenue for those native to the marshes,” said Jassim Assadi, who heads Nature Iraq.
The environmental activist group has long advocated for the marshes to be better protected and for authorities to develop a long-term ecotourism plan for the area.
“It’s a much more sustainable activity than the hydrocarbon and petroleum industry,” said Assadi, referring to the dominant industry that provides Iraq with about 90 percent of state revenues.
The numbers have steadily gone up in recent years, according to Assaad Al-Qarghouli, tourism chief in Iraq’s southern province of Dhi Qar.
“We had 10,000 tourists in 2016, then 12,000 in 2017 and 18,000 in 2018,” he told AFP.
But there is virtually no infrastructure to accommodate them.
“There are no tourist centers or hotels, because the state budget was sucked up by war the last few years,” Qarghouli told AFP.
Indeed, Daesh overran swathes of Iraq in 2014, prompting the government to direct its full attention — and the bulk of its resources — to fighting it back.
Iraq’s government declared victory in late 2017 and has slowly begun reallocating resources to infrastructure projects.
Qarghouli said the marshes should be a priority, and called on the government to build “a hotel complex and touristic eco-village inside the marshes.”
Peak season for tourists is between September and April, avoiding the summer months of Iraq when temperatures can reach a stifling 50 degrees Celsius.
But without a long-term government plan, residents worry that water levels will be hostage to fluctuating yearly rainfalls and shortages caused by Iranian and Turkish dams.
These dynamics have already damaged the marshes’ fragile ecosystem, with high levels of salination last year killing fish and forcing other wildlife to migrate.
Jurani, the returning expatriate, has an idea of the solution.
“Adventurers and nature-lovers,” he said, hopefully.
CAIRO: In 1971, Egyptian daily newspaper Akhbar Al-Youm published a story by journalist Abdel Wahab Mursi about Cairo’s “Jewish Alley,” and how it had changed during successive migrations by Jews from Egypt.
Mursi pointed out that the name is misleading and that this “alley” was in fact an entire neighborhood which, at the time of his report, was home to about 25,000 people. However, only 18 of them were Jewish, all of them elderly or widows. The rest were Muslims and Copts.
“The Jews who did not sell their property during the time of immigration never allowed others to live in the houses they left,” wrote Mursi. He also writes about a number of synagogues, including one called Rab Ishmael at 13th Al-Sakkia Street. Another, called Moses Ben Maymon and also known as Hermban, at 15th Dar Mahmoud had collapsed suddenly on the first day of Ramadan in 1970. Other temples mentioned in his story include Al-Torkeya, Al-Istaz, Rab HayiinQabous, Ram Zamra and Al-Yahoud Al-Feda’eya.
Almost 50 years after the story was published, much has changed in Jewish Alley. Most notably, the entire Jewish community in Egypt, led by Magda Shehata Harun, now numbers six women, according to a statement they issued in 2016 following the death of one of their number, Lucy Sawel. As for the synagogues, all but one — the Adli Temple in Downtown Cairo — have vanished or become derelict ruins.
“Both the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the outbreak of war between Jews and Arabs had a distinctive impact on the role of the Jewish community in Egypt,” said Egyptian historian and writer Mohammed Abul Ghar. Most of the Jews liquidated their businesses and property and migrated to Europe, America or Israel.”
Egypt was once host to the largest Jewish community in the Arab world. It was influential and involved in various aspects of Egyptian society. Although there are no accurate census figures, the Jewish population of the country was estimated to be between 75,000 and 80,000 in 1922, but had fallen to fewer than 100 by 2004.
At its peak, it included Arabic-speaking, Rabbinic and Karaite Jews, along with Sephardic Jews who had come to Egypt after they were expelled from Spain. In addition, trade flourished after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, attracting Ashkenazi Jews fleeing massacres in Europe. As a result, Egypt became a safe haven for Jews, who congregated in Jewish Alley and established a commercial and cultural elite. It would not last, however.
After the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became a safe haven for Jews, who congregated in Jewish Alley and established a commercial and cultural elite.
“During the era of Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt’s president from 1954 until 1970), the conflict between Egypt and Israel increased dramatically,” said Abul Ghar. “From the moment the State of Israel was established and invited Jews from all over the world to immigrate to it, Muslims started burning well-known shops owned by Jews, such as Chicoril and Ads.
“Several Israeli espionage networks, the members of which were Egyptian Jews, were discovered. In the 1980s, after Egypt’s victory in the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, some attempts to emigrate to Egypt by a few families were made. However, according to the Egyptian constitution, after someone acquires Israeli nationality he is stripped of Egyptian citizenship and so faces rejection of all applications for emigration.”
In the days when the Jewish community was thriving in Egypt, Abul Ghar said that wealthy Jews monopolized certain fields of commerce, including “Mosa Dubik,” “Marco E’nteibe” and “Jalabaj.” They traded in scrap and toys, while “Mizrahi” and “Mozaki” organized textile auctions in Al-Mahalla Al-Kubra city.
Jewish Alley, meanwhile, was not very hospitable to non-Jews. Hajji Abdul Latif Fawzi, an 82-year-old former assistant secretary at a medical center, said that when he went there one day at the age of 10 he was hit in the eye with a stone that had been thrown at him. The Jewish residents prevented any outsider from entering their neighborhood except for the few Egyptians who worked with them in workshops and textile shops.
Fawzi said when he entered the alley, he heard someone saying “Joey ... Joey.” This was a word used to describe “someone who is not Jewish” though he did not know this at the time. Then a group of young men rushed toward him and attacked.
“In the 1950s things began to change gradually in the neighborhood, as Jews started emigrating to Israel,” he added.
LONDON: Lebanese professor Mustapha Jazar has made it his life’s work to help connect students to the jobs they deserve.
While Lebanon has long produced highly educated students, this promising pipeline is badly affected by a lack of matching job opportunities.
Jazar set up the Lebanese Association for Scientific Research (LASeR) 10 years ago to “try to help the students through their journey from school to the job market.”
“The government itself isn’t doing anything about it,” Jazar said.
LASeR is a research-driven nongovernmental organization (NGO) that focuses on selecting candidates to pursue work-orientated research programs.
Through the undertaking of specific research initiatives, the students are trained in areas that will have a positive impact on Lebanon’s socio-economic condition, and can acquire skills that will improve their employability.
Jazar says: “I’m a true believer in research. Throughout my life I have been a researcher and I’ve tried to find funds to do research; for myself, for my students and my colleagues. Then one day I had the idea to create an NGO to mobilize the benefits of research in a more systematic way.”
For the first five years, LASeR was focused on university professors but the NGO has since shifted its focus to undergraduates. The program now takes in about 150 students annually.
Jazar says: “LASeR’s programs include a mix of capacity-building, soft skills and advanced technical skills according to their major. The aim is that students will be better equipped for the job market at the end of three years of university.”
The framework is called “E2C: Education To Community.” It has three modules: Media to Community, Health to Community and the soon-to-be launched Engineering to Community.
“The idea is to take a bunch of students nearing graduation in their third year of study, call them to apply, and then enroll them in a competition-based experience for three to four months where we deliver training. At the end, they have to deliver a product,” Jazar said.
He said that previous projects have included society-wide health-awareness campaigns and public-technology solutions.
At the end of the training period, a jury assesses the outcome of each group and gives a grade, along with the public’s assessment.
Jazar said: “In this way, they will learn the basics of how to deliver an awareness campaign and how to run a budget. If they need specific training, we will find a senior or alumni to deliver the training. Every team has a mentor. In the media group, most of the students have already found jobs.”
Jazar said LASeR was funded by donations and corporate sponsorship. The NGO relies heavily on volunteer expertise from corporates and within the university.
Local enrollment at Lebanese universities is exceptionally high — at about 50 percent — but the country’s small size and job pipeline inefficiencies mean career opportunities are limited.
“Lebanon is educating many highly skilled people but they are going abroad to work in the Gulf, Canada, Europe or the US,” Jazar said.
“We are facing a real problem, especially in research. Jobs are becoming competitive. Right now, we are nearing saturation. We will be observing brain
In 2018, 4,000 students graduated in engineering, which is a huge number for a country that has a population of four million, he says.
“We do believe that there will be a scarcity of job offers, but what is also lacking in Lebanon is self-employment, start-ups and initiatives led by young people, especially in coding,” Jazar said.
Through LASeR, Jazar aims to create a framework that cherry-picks the best talents from society and focuses these talents on addressing Lebanon’s biggest issues and opportunities.
“We believe there’s a huge amount of social problems that need to be addressed. We aim to raise awareness about our society and the environment with our students.
“We are training our students to look for problems and come up with solutions that will make money for their livelihoods — and for the betterment of Lebanon.”
WASHINGTON: The Trump administration has notified Congress it plans to send 1,500 troops to the Middle East amid heightened tensions with Iran.
Officials said members of Congress were notified following a White House meeting Thursday to discuss Pentagon proposals to bolster the US force presence in the Middle East.
Earlier this week, officials had said that Pentagon planners had outlined plans that could have sent up to 10,000 military reinforcements to the region. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan later said planners had not settled on a figure.
The US began reinforcing its presence in the Arabian Gulf region this month in response to what it said was a threat from Iran.
More to follow...Main category: Middle-EastTags: Donald TrumpPentagonPatrick Shanahan Pentagon plans to send more troops to Middle East amid Iran threatPentagon mulling request for 5,000 more US troops to Middle East -Reuters
BEIRUT: The heavily indebted Lebanese government approved a draft budget to cut its large deficit on Friday, aiming to ward off a financial crisis which top leaders have warned is bearing down on the country unless it carries out reforms.
The draft 2019 budget, which will cut the deficit to 7.5% of GDP from 11.5% in 2018, is seen as a critical test of the government's will to launch reforms that have been put off for years by a state riddled with corruption and waste.
Lebanon's bloated public sector is its biggest expense, followed by the cost of servicing a public debt equal to some 150% of GDP, one of the world's heaviest debt burdens.
The budget could help unlock some $11 billion in financing pledged at a Paris donors' conference last year for infrastructure investment, if it wins the approval of donor countries and institutions.
"Now, praise God, we are done. The budget is complete," Information Minister Jamal Jarrah said after a cabinet session.
One more meeting to seal the process will be held at the presidential palace before the draft is referred to parliament for approval. Ministers did not say when the next session would take place.
Fears the budget would lead to cuts to state salaries, pensions or benefits triggered weeks of strikes and protests by public sector workers and military veterans.
Measures to rein in the public sector wage bill include a three-year freeze in all types of state hiring and a cap on extra-salary bonuses. State pension will also be taxed.
However a temporary public sector salary cut mooted by some early in the process was not included.
A big chunk of the deficit cut stems from tax increases including a 2% import tax and a hike in tax on interest payments. The government also plans to cut some $660 million from the debt servicing bill by issuing treasury bonds at 1% interest rate to the Lebanese banking sector.
The final cabinet approval had been obstructed by a dispute over whether more needed to be done to bring the deficit lower.
But Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, speaking to local media, said "all the clauses and articles" had been agreed. Nobody had raised any objections when Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said "we are done" at the end of the session, he added.
There was no immediate comment from Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who had been demanding further debate.
Deputy Prime Minister Ghassan Hasbani, speaking to Reuters on Thursday, said the draft budget would stabilise the financial situation and avoid "catastrophe" but it fell short of the major structural reforms Lebanon needs.
Economists in Lebanon say it will give a "positive shock" to market confidence against a backdrop of years of low economic growth, concern over a slowdown in the growth of bank deposits and falling central bank net foreign assets.
Aberdeen Standard Investments emerging markets fund manager Kevin Daly said: "We are still sceptical because they still have very little room in the budget." Wages and subsidies made up a large proportion of the deficit, he noted.
"I think the market will come back after the weekend and take a closer look ... the jury is still out on these guys".
Nassib Ghobril, chief economist at Lebanon's Byblos Bank, said the draft budget had stopped increases in government spending but had not reduced them.
"They might reduce the deficit to an acceptable level. But it is not a reform budget or an austerity budget, it is a budget based heavily on taxes," he said.
"This is the easy way out for the government to reduce the deficit. If we believe the figure, it is a significant reduction in the deficit, but it is not the way to do it in a stagnating economy, in an economy in need of liquidity."
Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said: "Markets might react positively initially in as far as they've actually managed to agree on a budget after several weeks of deliberations.
"But over longer horizon, we still think that markets in Lebanon will come under pressure again."
BEIRUT: Lebanon has "summarily deported" at least 16 Syrians, some of them registered refugees, by forcing them to sign "voluntary repatriation forms," human rights groups said on Friday.
Lebanon hosts nearly one million Syrian refugees - a significant burden for a country of four million people - and there has been mounting pressure for them to go home even though the UN says many areas remain unsafe to return to.
The 16 were all removed to Syria on April 26 after they arrived at Beirut airport, Human Rights Watch and four other groups said in a joint report.
Most of them were sent back to Lebanon after they were barred from entering Cyprus via Turkey, quashing their plans to seek asylum, it said.
At least five were registered with the United Nations refugee agency, it added.
"Lebanese authorities shouldn't deport anyone to Syria without first allowing them a fair opportunity to argue their case for protection," said HRW's acting Middle East director, Lama Fakih.
The report said around 30 Syrians have been deported from Beirut airport this year by Lebanon's General Security agency.
The latest deportees said they were "pressured" by General Security officers at the airport into signing documents stating that they were "voluntarily" returning to Syria.
"My biggest fears returning to Syria are that I would be conscripted and have to fight, or that I would be arrested because the regime has me on a wanted list or because of a case of mistaken identity," the report quoted one of the deportees as saying.
"If I wasn't scared of arrest, I wouldn't have left Syria in the first place."
General Security estimates that over 170,000 Syrian refugees returned home from Lebanon between December 2017 and March 2019.
SANAA: Yemen’s internationally recognized president sent a letter to the UN chief, criticizing his envoy to the country over allegedly siding with Iran-aligned Houthi militia, the president’s office said Friday.
In the letter addressed to Antonio Guterres, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi accused Martin Griffiths, the UN special envoy to Yemen, of undermining chances for peace. Hadi also warns his government would stop dealing with the UN envoy.
“I can no longer tolerate the violations committed by the special envoy, which threaten prospects for a solution,” read the five-page letter, a copy of which was released to reporters Thursday.
It also accuses Griffiths of treating the militia as a "de-facto government and as an equal to the legitimate and elected government” of Yemen.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by the Houthi rebels. A coalition of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, allied with Hadi’s government, has been fighting the Houthis since March 2015.
The fighting has killed an estimated 60,000 people and left millions suffering from lack of food and medical care.
Tensions arose between Griffiths and Hadi last week after the UN announced the long-delayed Houthi withdrawal from the flashpoint port city of Hodeidah.
Hadi’s government accused Griffiths at the time of turning a blind eye that the militants had allegedly only handed control of the port to “militia leaders” loyal to them. The “redeployment of Houthis” from Hodeidah was part of a UN-brokered deal concluded in December.
Hadi went on to say that Griffiths’s “poor understanding” of the Yemeni conflict makes him unfit for his post.
While briefing the UN Security Council on the situation in Yemen last week, Griffiths urged the warring sides to maintain the momentum of the Houthi withdrawal from Hodeidah — the country’s lifeline to foreign aid — and to work urgently on a political solution to the devastating conflict.
There were “signs of hope” but “also alarming signs” that could threaten progress, Griffiths said, a reference to continuing clashes in the southern Dhale province.
Later Friday, Houthi leader Mohamed Ali Al-Houthi tweeted that Hadi’s letter to the UN chief was “a miserable attempt to curtail peace.”
ALGIERS: Algerian police arrested dozens of people on Friday at the Grand Post Office, a key rallying point for protesters in the capital Algiers, witnesses and journalists said.
An AFP journalist saw a woman arrested near the post office, where security fences were erected this week in an attempt to prevent demonstrators accessing the site.
Several hundred protesters gathered near the building on Friday, but they were kept at bay by a police cordon and a row of vehicles.
“Patrols criss-crossed the city and arrested anyone suspected of joining the rally,” Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, said on Twitter.
“It seems they (the authorities) want to ban the rally,” he added.
The protest movement forced president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down on April 2, after two decades in power.
But rallies — now into a fourteenth week — have continued each Friday, to pressure army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and others to leave office.
“Tired of the generals!,” “Gaid Salah resign!,” protesters chanted Friday.
Mehenna Abdeslam, a protester and a university teacher, told AFP he witnessed “the police systematically arrest anyone carrying a banner.”
But “we will not stop” demonstrating, he added.
Local news site TSA reported police in Algiers made “massive arrests among the protesters.”
It also noted a heavy presence of female police officers, for the first time since the protests began.
A presidential election that was originally due to take place in April is scheduled for July 4, but the protest movement wants the poll scrapped, in the absence of new independent institutions to oversee voting.
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