Archive for November 16th, 2015

Luxembourg: ‘We’ll help reconstruct Gaza’

Monday, 09 November 2015

The Luxembourg government and UNRWA will be working to assist in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and to push the process forward, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.

In a press conference held in Gaza, Asselborn also stated: “I believe that this is clearly a humanitarian issue and is considered one of the top issues for the Palestinian people. We must not only be satisfied with reconstructing Gaza.”

“I heard that more than half of Gazans are under 18 years old. However, it’s impossible to find a job here even if people complete their studies and this is very negative.”

Asselborn also expressed his discontent regarding the confrontations carried out by the Palestinian youth in Jerusalem and Hebron, and stressed that violence should not be encouraged; rather, there should be calls to end it.

The minister had entered the Gaza Strip for a short visit to meet with ministers from the national unity government in Gaza via the Beit Hanoun crossing.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


Syria’s swimming sisters find new home in German waters

November 10, 2015

BERLIN (AP) — Sarah and Ysra Mardini pull bathing caps over their long, black hair and slide into the water, disappearing among the throng of swimmers with powerful, practiced strokes.

Two months ago the sisters were swimming for their lives, after jumping off an inflatable boat that began taking on water carrying refugees to Greece. Now they are ploughing down the length of a pool built for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin that has become a home away from home for two young women, who were once among Syria’s brightest swimming stars.

“Everything was good,” said 20-year-old Sarah. “That was before the war.” After the conflict began, the Mardini family moved around to avoid the fighting and tried to ensure their daughters could keep on swimming. Ysra, now 17, even represented Syria at the short-course world championships in Turkey in 2012. But as the war intensified fellow swimmers drifted away.

“We were 40 or 50 swimmers, and now we are maybe 10 or 7 swimmers in Syria,” said Sarah. “We want to have a future. I want to be in college, I want to be an international swimmer and my sister too. But if we stay there we will not reach that because the situation is not OK in Syria.”

The Mardini sisters eventually left Damascus in early August, joining a fresh wave of Syrians who had given up hope of seeing the conflict end soon. The sisters traveled to Lebanon, then Turkey, where they paid smugglers to take them to Greece.

Turkish coastguards drove their boat back on the first attempt. The second time they boarded a small inflatable dinghy at dusk. Within a half hour it was taking on water, hopelessly overloaded with people, most of whom couldn’t swim.

As evening winds churned up the Aegean Sea, all bags were thrown overboard to give the small boat a chance to stay afloat. When that wasn’t enough, Ysra, Sarah and three others who were also strong swimmers jumped into the water in order to give the boat more buoyancy.

“I was not afraid of dying, because if anything happened I could swim to arrive at the island. But the problem was that I had 20 persons with me,” said Sarah. “In Syria I worked in a swimming pool to watch people not drowning, so if I let anyone drown or die I would not forgive myself.”

For three hours they clung onto ropes hanging from the side until it reached shore on the Greek island of Lesbos. In the weeks-long overland trek that followed, strangers gave them clothes, while others stole from them. Friends were arrested at borders and expensive tickets proved worthless, as authorities refused to let trains full of refugees cross borders.

Eventually, the sisters made it to Austria and then Germany. Shortly after arriving in Berlin a local charity put them in touch with the Wasserfreunde Spandau 04, a swimming club based near their refugee shelter.

The club has embraced its newest recruits, putting them straight into a daily training routine. Sven Spannekrebs, their coach, says the sisters are making amazing progress, though he is realistic about their prospects as athletes. “They can swim at the highest level for the Arab world, but there’s a difference to Europe because of the training conditions,” he said.

Ysra, who specializes in butterfly stroke, is aiming high. “Maybe when I learn German I will start school. I want to be a pilot,” she said. “And with my swimming I want to reach the Olympics.” Her older sister, meanwhile, is battling bureaucracy to bring the rest of the family to Germany. In the pool, she prefers long-distance swimming.

“It seems to me that I have balanced my life,” said Sarah. “We can’t do anything good in our life if we don’t have swimming.”

Venezuela names square in capital after Arafat

Friday, 13 November 2015

A public square in the capital of Venezuela has been named after Yasser Arafat. A bronze statue of the late Palestinian president was unveiled in Caracas on Wednesday, on the 11th anniversary of his death.

The unveiling ceremony was attended by senior Venezuelan officials as well as Arab and other foreign diplomats. The Palestinian Ambassador to Venezuela, Linda Sobh, praised the country’s pioneering role in the Palestinian cause, especially in seeking to achieve Palestinian rights and independence, as well as exposing Israeli violations of international laws and conventions.

The Mayor of Caracas, Jorge Rodríguez, expressed Venezuela’s pride in commemorating one of the historical icons of national liberation in the land of liberator Simon Bolivar. He stressed Venezuela’s moral and revolutionary commitment to adopt the Palestinian cause in all national and international arenas as a firmly rooted policy, following in the footsteps of the late leader Hugo Chavez, under the man continuing his journey, President Nicolas Maduro Moros.

Source: Middle East Monitor.