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The long search for a daughter in the wake of Sabra and Shatila | Israel-Palestine conflict

Beirut, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip – Every year on September 16, Rehab Kanaan lights candles in an open court in the centre of Gaza city, in memory of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, and her son and the other members of her family who were killed.

Kanaan was born in 1954 in Lebanon, where her family took refuge after fleeing the city of Safad during the 1948 Nakba, when thousands of Palestinians were forced out of their homes after the establishment of Israel.

But Lebanon, and the Shatila refugee camp Kanaan eventually moved to, would not be a refuge.

In 1976, only a year into Lebanon’s devastating civil war, and six years before the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacre, Kanaan says that 51 members of her extended family were killed in the Tel al-Zaatar massacre, including her parents, her five brothers, and three sisters.

“It was a real tragedy. I was totally alone,” a tearful Kanaan said from her home in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

She tried to move on, but in her own words, “more tragedies awaited”.

By 1982 Kanaan had divorced her first husband, who she had two children with, and remarried, but remained in Shatila.

On September 16 of that year, after hearing about attacks by “Lebanese gangs”, Kanaan left the camp with her husband. Her children, 12-year-old Maher and 15-year-old Maymana, stayed behind with their father.

From September 16-18 1982, between 2,000 and 3,500 people were killed in Beirut’s Sabra neighbourhood and the adjacent Shatila.

The victims were predominantly the Palestinian refugees who lived in the camp, as well as Lebanese civilians.

The perpetrators: a right-wing Lebanese militia operating in coordination with the Israeli army.

Images from the aftermath were broadcast around the world, and the massacre is considered one of the most traumatic events in Palestinian history, with commemorative events held every year.

“After the massacre ended, I immediately returned to Sabra and Shatila,” Kanaan said. “It was a huge shock – body parts, blood and the dead, the scene was catastrophic. Many of my relatives and neighbours were killed, but there was no news about my children.”

“There was no one to ask, the situation was difficult, many people were killed, and everyone was looking for missing and dead people. This situation continued on for months.”

Along with thousands of other Palestinians, Kanaan left with her husband to Tunisia at the end of 1982, still uncertain whether her children were dead or alive.

“One morning, when I was in Tunisia, the Palestinian newspaper al-Thawra published a list of the martyrs who were killed in Sabra and Shatila – my son Maher’s name was among them,” she recounted.

“It was a very difficult moment. I was screaming hysterically, ‘Maher, Maher.’ It was very difficult news.”

As for Maymana, the trail went cold.

Sabra Shatila Gaza
Rehab Kanaan has kept a memorial to her family members, including her parents, her siblings and her son, who were killed in the Tel al-Zaatar and Shatila camp massacres [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

‘Smell of death’

Nawal Abu Rudeinah was six when the militiamen came to Shatila. Unlike Kanaan, she was not able to flee from the massacre, and neither were her family.

“I remember the strong smell of death. I remember walking between many dead bodies. It was unreal,” Abu Rudeinah, now 46, told Al Jazeera from her home in Shatila.

She explains that her father, Shawkat, and pregnant sister, Amal, were killed during the massacre, along with her grandfather, aunt, and 12 other relatives.

“There were people without arms, there were brains on the floor, there were women with their legs open and were covered with a blanket,” she continued.

“When they went into our home, they took all the men outside, put them in a line and began hitting them with heavy tiles on their heads. I will never forget this scene.”

Abu Rudeinah’s mother died of a heart attack five years later, and she was forced to drop out of school to take care of her younger brother, Mohammad.

“My childhood was horrible. We often didn’t have food. We would get donations from people but we raised ourselves. I would stand on a chair and cook. By the time I was 16 I knew how to do everything,” she said.

The Sabra and Shatila massacre continues to highlight the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon today, who now number 479,000, according to the United Nations.

Sabra and Shatila - Lebanon
Nawal Abu Rudeinah, 46, holds up a photo of her sister (R) who was killed during the massacre, and a photo of her mother (L) who died five years later of a heart attack [Ayham al-Sahili/Al Jazeera]

About 45 percent of them live in the country’s 12 refugee camps, which suffer from overcrowding, poor housing conditions, unemployment, poverty and lack of access to basic services and legal aid.

Palestinians in Lebanon are banned from working in as many as 39 professions and owning property, and face numerous other restrictions.

“Life in the camp is very hard. I think if you ask everyone they all want to leave. We are still carrying the label ‘refugee’ and it’s been 74 years and we are still refugees,” said Abu Rudeinah, whose family were expelled from the city of Haifa in 1948.

“The Lebanese state does not want us either, ok fine, so let us go back to our homeland, imagine going back, to be surrounded by your countrymen. Our dream before we die is to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Twenty-two years searching

The Lebanese restrictions on Palestinians that make life so difficult for Abu Rudeinah also meant that Kanaan could never return to look for her daughter Maymana.

Instead, she spent 22 years fruitlessly searching, asking after relatives and neighbours in Lebanon to try to reach her daughter.

Eventually, she managed to find one connection to her life in Lebanon. A number for a long-lost aunt.

“I gathered my strength and called. My cousin answered. I asked her one question: Is Maymana alive or not? She said yes, she is fine.”

“I began screaming for joy and crying.”

Two years later, in 2006, Kanaan met her daughter Maymana in person, when Abu Dhabi TV organised a meeting between the two live on television.

“It was a memorable day. I couldn’t believe my daughter had grown into such a beautiful young woman after I had left her as a little girl. I embraced her in a long hug that made everyone in the studio cry.”

Sabra Shatila Gaza
Rehab Kanaan met her daughter Maymana on television in 2006 after 24 years apart [Abdelhakim Abu Riash/Al Jazeera]

Naturally, Kanaan wanted to make up for the lost time.

But the reality of her life in Gaza, which has been under a 15-year Israeli blockade, and her now-married daughter’s life in Lebanon, means that it has been difficult to meet.

“My life is a series of pain and suffering. I lost my family in one massacre, and lost my son and cousins in another massacre.

“Then, I tasted the bitterness of searching for my daughter for years, and I found her, but she is far from me. What more can Palestinian mothers bear?”

Maram Humaid reported from the Gaza Strip, Zena al-Tahhan from Jerusalem and Ayham al-Sahili from Lebanon. 

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‘Dilemma for the Russians’ after surrendering key Ukraine city | Russia-Ukraine war News

The recapture of Lyman city in the east – in territory recently annexed by Moscow – raises questions about how Russia can hold surrounding areas with supply routes severed.

Questions about Russia’s faltering military operation in Ukraine continue to be raised as Kyiv announced it was in full control of the key eastern city of Lyman after Moscow’s troops pulled back.

It is Kyiv’s most significant battlefield gain in weeks, providing a potential staging post for increased attacks to the east while heaping further pressure on the Kremlin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Sunday that his forces had taken over Lyman after encircling it the day before.

“As of 12:30pm (09:30 GMT) Lyman is cleared fully. Thank you to our militaries, our warriors,” he said in a video address.

Russia’s military did not comment on Lyman on Sunday after announcing the previous day it was withdrawing its forces there to move to “more favourable positions”.

‘Sort of a dilemma’

The loss of Lyman is a significant blow to Russian forces, who have used the city for months as a crucial logistics and rail hub in the Donetsk region to move military equipment, troops, and other necessary supplies.

“Without those routes, it will be more difficult so it presents a sort of a dilemma for the Russians going forward,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

Lyman, which Ukraine recaptured by encircling Russian troops, is in the Donetsk region near the border with the Luhansk region. These are two of the four regions or oblasts that Russia annexed on Friday after people there voted in referendums, which Ukraine and the West called illegitimate.

The Institute for the Study of War, a United States-based think-tank, said the fall of Lyman suggested Russia was “deprioritizing defending Luhansk” to hold occupied territory in southern Ukraine. 

“Ukrainian and Russian sources consistently indicate that Russian forces continued to reinforce Russian positions in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts, despite the recent collapse of the Kharkiv-Izyum front and even as the Russian positions around Lyman collapsed,” it said

‘Courage, bravery, skills’

In a daily intelligence briefing on Sunday, the United Kingdom’s military described the recapture of Lyman as a “significant political setback” for Moscow. Taking the city paves the way for Ukrainian troops to potentially push farther into Russian-occupied territory.

Ukraine’s capture of a city within territory of President Vladimir Putin’s declared annexation demonstrates that Ukrainians are able to push back Russian forces, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Sunday.

“We have seen that they have been able to take a new town, Lyman, and that demonstrates that the Ukrainians are making progress, are able to push back the Russian forces because of the courage, because of their bravery, their skills, but of course also because of the advanced weapons that the United States and other allies are providing,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with American broadcaster NBC.

Ukrainian forces have retaken swaths of territory, notably in the northeast around Kharkiv, in a counteroffensive in recent weeks that has embarrassed the Kremlin and prompted rare domestic criticism of Putin’s war.

A pomp-filled Kremlin annexation ceremony on Friday has failed to stem a wave of criticism within Russia of how its “special military operation” is being handled.

Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s southern Chechnya region, on Saturday called for a change of strategy “right up to the declaration of martial law in the border areas and the use of low-yield nuclear weapons”.

Other hawkish Russian figures criticised Russian generals and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on social media for overseeing the setbacks, but stopped short of attacking Putin.

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Voting ends in Bosnia election set to bring little change

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Polls have closed Sunday in Bosnia’s general election in which voters chose their new leaders from among the long-established cast of sectarian candidates and their challengers who pledged to eradicate, if elected, corruption and clientelism in government.

Moments after vote count begun, Bosnia’s international overseer, Christian Schmidt, announced in a YouTube video that he was amending the country’s electoral law “to ensure functionality and timely implementation of election results.” Schmid assured citizens in the video that the changes “will in no way affect” the votes cast on Sunday for different levels of government that are part of one of the world’s most complicated institutional set-ups.

Bosnia’s power-sharing system was agreed upon in a U.S.-sponsored peace deal that ended the brutal 1992-95 war between its three main ethnic groups – Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats – by dividing the country into two highly independent entities. The entities — one run by Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats – have broad autonomy but are linked by shared national institutions. All countrywide actions require consensus from all three ethnic groups.

The agreement also gave broad powers to the international high representative, the post currently held by Schmidt, including the ability to impose laws and to dismiss officials and civil servants who undermine the country’s fragile post-war ethnic balance.

The Sunday election included races for the three members of the shared Bosnian presidency; parliament deputies at the state, entity and regional levels; and the president of the country’s Serb-run part.

The traditional ruling class was challenged in the election by parties which, despite ideological differences and sometimes clashing agendas, shared the campaign promise to eradicate patronage networks and sanction acts of corruption in government.

Analysts predicted the long-entrenched nationalists who have enriched cronies and ignored the needs of the people were likely to remain dominant after the election despite deeply disappointing their constituents, largely because the sectarian post-war system of governance leaves pragmatic, reform-minded Bosnians with little incentive to vote.

However, contenders vying to replace the nationalists on the country’s tripartite presidency and in the post of the president of its Serb-run part insisted the preliminary results indicated they were wining the vote.

Election turnout on Sunday was 50% or over 2 percentage points down from the 2018 general election.

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Burkina Faso coup: Ousted military leader Damiba ‘resigns’ | Military News

Burkina Faso’s overthrown military chief agreed to step down two days after army officers announced his deposition in the country’s second coup in a year.

Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba “offered his resignation in order to avoid confrontations with serious human and material consequences”, according to a statement on Sunday by mediators.

Influential religious and community leaders held mediation talks between Damiba and the new self-proclaimed leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, to resolve the crisis.

“President Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba proposed his own resignation in order to avoid clashes,” said Hamidou Yameogo, a spokesman for the mediation efforts.

Damiba set “seven conditions” for stepping down. They included a guarantee of security for his allies in the military, “a guarantee of his security and rights”, and assurance that those taking power will respect the pledge he gave to West Africa’s regional bloc for a return to civilian rule within two years.

Traore officially was named head of state after he accepted the conditions given by Damiba, calling on “the population to exercise calm, restraint and prayer”.

A statement issued on Sunday by the pro-Traore military said he would remain in charge “until the swearing-in of the president of Burkina Faso designated by the nation’s active forces” at an unspecified date.

The second change of leadership in a year started on Friday when military officers announced the deposition of Damiba, the dissolution of the transitional government and the suspension of the constitution.

Waving Russian flags

Damiba, who led a coup in January, said on Saturday that he had no intention of giving up power and urged the officers to “come to their senses”.

Tensions have been high in the country since Friday, with clashes occurring between protesters and security forces.

Late Saturday, angry protesters attacked the French embassy in Ouagadougou as they believed Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a “French base” – allegations he and France denied. Burkina Faso is a former colony of France.

The French foreign ministry condemned “the violence against our embassy in the strongest terms” by “hostile demonstrators manipulated by a disinformation campaign against us”.

In a statement broadcast on state television, new military spokesman Captain Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho called on people to “desist from any act of violence and vandalism” especially those against the French embassy or the French military base.

To some in Burkina Faso’s military, Damiba also was seen as too cozy with former colonizer France, which maintains a military presence in Africa’s Sahel region to help countries fight various armed groups.

Some who support the new coup leader Traore have called on Burkina Faso’s government to seek Russian support instead. Outside the state broadcaster on Sunday, supporters of Traore were seen cheering and waving Russian flags.

‘Deeply rooted crisis’

Traore promised to overhaul the military so it is better prepared to fight “extremists”. He accused Damiba of following the same failed strategies as former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whom Damiba overthrew in a January coup.

“Far from liberating the occupied territories, the once-peaceful areas have come under terrorist control,” the new military leadership said, adding Damiba failed as more than 40 percent of the country remained outside government control.

The landlocked state of Burkina Faso has been struggling to contain rebel groups, including some associated with al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).

Since 2015, the country has become the epicentre of the violence across the Sahel region, where thousands of people have been killed and about two million displaced.

With much of the Sahel battling growing unrest, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.

Conflict analysts say Damiba was probably too optimistic about what he could achieve in the short term, but a change at the top did not mean the country’s security situation would improve.

“The problems are too profound and the crisis is deeply rooted,” said Heni Nsaibia, a senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Armed groups “will most likely continue to exploit” the country’s political disarray, he said.

 

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