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The Humanitarian Crisis in the Middle East: Solutions and Consequences

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“Dialogando” (in dialogue) was back again this year in the beautiful city of Stintino, a coastal commune in the Province of Sassari in the Italian Island Sardinia. The municipality of the Italian city opened on December 4, 2015 in cooperation with the “Gulf Mediterranean Forum” the second edition of the Conference “Dialogando” discussing “the Humanitarian Crises in the Middle East: Solutions and Consequences”.

The conference featured participants from several countries in the Mediterranean region in search for solutions to the deepening terrorism crisis, which is claiming thousands of lives in the region.

Mr. Antonio Diana Mayor of Stintino opened the conference by welcoming the participants to his city and announcing his intention to create a “center for interfaith dialogue” in order to create a balanced dialogue between religions in order to find common ground in dealing with the aggravating refugee crisis on the one hand and the crisis of the terrorists on the other hand.

Mr. Diana concluded saying: “We wish to end a message from here, from Stintino, in an attempt to contribute to the solution of this crisis which we are all of suffering from.”

Dr. Hamzah Jammoul, researcher in conflict resolution and International relations and also one of the conference’s main organizers, stressed that “the crisis is a humanitarian crisis with political and legal dimensions”, proposing a number of questions: “What is the role of Italy in the face of this crisis? Is Italy’s role equivalent to that of China, Russia, and the US? Why did Italy do during the past years to contribute to the solution of this Mediterranean dilemma, especially for the Libyan and Syrian crisis?” Dr. Jammoul added that” Italy should assume a key role in the Mediterranean”, pointing out that this role should be of two parts, first to come up with a political framework to find a solution for the crisis in the affected countries and a second legal framework to find a solution to the influx of refugees to Europe and regularize their status.

Dr. Jammoul also pointed out to the ” absence of a clear vision on the issue of granting visas to refugees,” adding that “170 thousand refugees have arrived in Italy during the year 2015 where 450 thousand applied for asylum in Italy and the rest chose to move to other countries such as Germany and France, which indicated that Italy is also a transit country for these refugees”.

Meanwhile, Former Italian Minister of public instruction Mr. Luigi Berlinguer provided a different approach to the subject beginning with the need to “stop the terrorists by force, since the use of force in dealing with terrorists is part of the solution but it is not enough because they are in great numbers”. He also stressed that we should “rise up against this phenomenon … and we cannot allow history to write about our inability to find a solution to this humanitarian crisis.”

While Berlinguer called for an urgent solution to this crisis, he also pointing to the “the clash of interests between the rich and the poor.” He concluded by saying: “we have to find an immediate solution because the terrorists’ ability to recruit more is growing”.

For his part, Dr. Amer Al Sabaile, secretary general of the Mediterranean Gulf Forum, stressed that addressing the humanitarian crisis and reducing the phenomenon of asylum to Europe can only be part of a comprehensive plan to establish development and to fight terrorism. Within this framework, Dr. Al Sabaile highlighted that “counter-terrorism strategy cannot be a single strategy and bring about positive to this confrontation unless we have a unifying efforts rather than having multiple separated efforts. Confrontation with terrorism has reached a crucial stage that cannot be tolerated anymore, which requires a qualitative move towards bridging the gap between the international coalition and the Russian intervention, which has become a fait accompli and must be dealt with it according to the new political literature, which several US-led coalition member states are now dealing with on a reality basis”.

As for Mr. Henry Malosse, former president and member of the European Economic and social committee, he proposed the creation of a Mediterranean Union to follow up on the refugee crisis which concerns both the Arab Maghreb countries as well as the Middle East. Malosse also pointed out that with the deepening refugee crisis, the people of Europe have begun to lose confidence in their own governments, stressing that “the core of the crisis lies in the question: Are the European countries dealing with one another as a union? Or are they sustaining the notion of national sovereignty which is contrary to the concept of the Union?” He then pointed out that “Lebanon has received two million Syrian refugees while the total number of the Lebanese population is 4 million! If France would receive this percentage, the number of refugees in the French territory will be about 20 million refugees”, stressing the need to support the countries that host and receive the refugees.

For his part, the former Jordanian Information Minister Ali Alayed pointed out that the number of Refugees in his country amounted to twenty percent of the total population and that they live in a decent way and are engaged within the Jordanian society. The minister stressed that the Jordanian government is striving to ensure the needs of all refugees residing within its territory. He also called on Europe to play a greater role in order to find a radical solution, saying “we fight for peace and humanity…we fight for better conditions.”

Meanwhile, member of Italian Parliament and Foreign Affairs Committee in the Italian Parliament, Mariano Rabino that “a military solution cannot be the fundamental solution to the problem, but must be accompanied by a political solution,” stressing the need to “remove the Isis virus from Mosul and Raqqa”. He pointed to the existence of a problem “in the multifaceted European societies”, drawing attention to the fact that” those who are executing attacks in Europe should not be called upon as Arabs but on the contrary it should be noted that they had been brought up, received education and grew up in the European Environment”, concluding that “the problem is a social and cultural one, and the solution lies in the search for the roots of this problem”.

Ms. Elly Schlein, member of the European Parliament, for her part considered that “it is unfair to put the people escaping prison (refugees) in other prisons,” stressing the need to give them a margin of freedom. Schlein also called for “breaking down the network of smugglers who contribute to the deaths of hundreds per day out at sea” and continued to demand from the west “to stop their sale of arms which are ultimately used against us”. She finally concluded that “the time has come to put an end to policies that force us to buy oil from those who use the money to fund and support terrorists”.

On the same note, Dr. Hassan Jouni, professor of International Law, stressed that the West has to stop the exploitation of the wealth of the poor in the southern hemisphere while focusing on the need for a military intervention against terrorism because the political and negotiated solutions do not work with terrorists.

While, Dr. Sergio Giangregorio, president of the European center of orientation and studies, pointed to the close link between asylum and terrorism. He told a number of stories that he had heard from the refugees about the appalling conditions they experienced because of terrorists. He also drew attention to the large number of refugees who warned of the infiltration of terrorist into Europe under the pretext of humanitarian asylum.

He also said that “the goal of the arrival of these terrorists to Europe is to create radical movement of Islam”, holding Turkey the greater responsibility of asylum at sea and the infiltration of terrorists into Europe as well. He stressed that “the massacre of Paris proved that there is a center of evil in the world is planning to spread evil everywhere which has become an intellectual reference for these jihadists.”

Meanwhile, Admiral Mario Rino Me utilized his military experience in the Italian Navy to explain some of the details relating to the military and humanity aspects of the war on Syria. He said that the “Arab Spring awakened European countries, which expects to this spring to blossom freedoms”, noting however that “a vacuum of power produced by this spring was somewhat covered up by countries living within rival identities”. Admiral Rino Me concluded that “the surge of terrorism came along to initiate a sectarian conflict”, stressing that “what is going on has nothing to do religions and cultures, it’s rather linked to the issue of controlling the world.”

Ms. Marwa Osman. PhD Candidate located in Beirut, Lebanon. University Lecturer and host of the political show “The Middle East Stream” broadcasted on Al-Etejah English Channel. Member of the Blue Peace Media Network and political commentator on issues of the Middle East on several international and regional media outlets.

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After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

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The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.

The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.

“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.

“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”

Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. 

Blockades and bombardment

The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.

“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.

In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.

Living in fear

In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.

At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.

Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.

Division remains

The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”

Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants

The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.

“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”

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IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi at a press conference. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calmaa

A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?


The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.

Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.

When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.

Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible.  Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.

Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.

The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.

It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.

“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.

I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.

Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.

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Elections represent an opportunity for stability and unity in Libya

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With just over 100 days until landmark elections in Libya, political leaders must join forces to ensure the vote is free, fair and inclusive, the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Friday. 

Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefed ambassadors on developments ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place on 24 December. 

They were agreed under a political roadmap stemming from the historic October 2020 ceasefire between Libya’s rival authorities, and the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this year. 

At the crossroads 

“Libya is at a crossroads where positive or negative outcomes are equally possible,” said Mr. Kubiš.  “With the elections there is an opportunity for Libya to move gradually and convincingly into a more stable, representative and civilian track.” 

He reported that the House of Representatives has adopted a law on the presidential election, while legislation for the parliamentary election is being finalized and could be considered and approved within the coming weeks.  

Although the High National Election Commission (HNEC) has received the presidential election law, another body, the High State Council, complained that it had been adopted without consultation. 

Foreign fighter threat 

The HNEC chairman has said it will be ready to start implementation once the laws are received, and will do everything possible to meet the 24 December deadline. 

“Thus, it is for the High National Election Commission to establish a clear electoral calendar to lead the country to the elections, with support of the international community, for the efforts of the Government of National Unity, all the respective authorities and institutions to deliver as free and fair, inclusive and credible elections as possible under the demanding and challenging conditions and constraints,” said Mr. Kubiš.  

“The international community could help create more conducive conditions for this by facilitating the start of a gradual withdrawal of foreign elements from Libya without delay.” 

Young voters eager 

The UN envoy also called for countries and regional organizations to provide electoral observers to help ensure the integrity and credibility of the process, as well as acceptance of the results. 

He also welcomed progress so far, including in updating the voter registry and the launch of a register for eligible voters outside the country. 

So far, more than 2.8 million Libyans have registered to vote, 40 per cent of whom are women.  Additionally, more than half a million new voters will also be casting their ballots. 

“Most of the newly registered are under 30, a clear testament to the young generation’s eagerness to take part in determining the fate of their country through a democratic process. The Libyan authorities and leaders must not let them down,” said Mr. Kubiš. 

He stressed that the international community also has a responsibility to support the positive developments in Libya, and to stand firm against attempts at derailment.  

“Not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country, could lead to division and conflict,” he warned.  “I urge the Libyan actors to join forces and ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be seen as the essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya.”

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