Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Israel Takes War on Gaza to West Bank Camps

Jenin residents are seen during the funeral of a person who was killed during the Israeli military operation in Mat. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)
Jenin residents are seen during the funeral of a person who was killed during the Israeli military operation in Mat. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)
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Israel Takes War on Gaza to West Bank Camps

Jenin residents are seen during the funeral of a person who was killed during the Israeli military operation in Mat. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)
Jenin residents are seen during the funeral of a person who was killed during the Israeli military operation in Mat. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)

The morning of Tuesday, May 12 was supposed to be a normal day in the city of Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The city came to life after a night of calm that was not disrupted by Israeli raids or assassinations.

Employees went to work, students, teachers and professors headed to their schools and universities and stores were open for the day. However, the next minutes would become another bloody chapter in the sad city’s history.

No one who made their way through the streets of Jenin that morning knew that zero hour for an Israeli military operation had arrived. No one knew that the next few minutes would turn the streets and buildings into a warzone.

An Israeli special forces unit had infiltrated the city in a car carrying a Palestinian license plate. Emerging from the car were snipers who took position on the roofs of several buildings ahead of the operation.

A little after 8:00 am, the special unit and the snipers began opening fire at “anything that moved”, recalled an eyewitness. Seven people were killed immediately, including two students, a teacher and a surgeon.

Damaged houses are seen in Jenin camp following the Israeli operation in May. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)

Mahmoud

One of the students was 15-year-old Mahmoud Hamadna, who had left home with his twin brother to head to school near the Jenin camp. He had end of year exams that day. His father recalled to Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt that he immediately contacted his son as soon as he heard warning sirens ring in the camp. Mahmoud answered that he had safely arrived at school.

“I was relieved that they were well,” added the father. However, the sudden Israeli operation sparked confusion throughout the city. Unbeknownst to the father, the school authorities had asked the faculty, staff and students to return home because they feared an escalation, similar to what had happened in the past.

With a heavy heart, the father recalled the moment the brother returned home alone without Mahmoud. “I tried to contact him, but he didn’t answer his phone. I called him over 15 times with no answer,” he said. Meanwhile, Mahmoud had been making his way home on his bicycle. As soon as he left the school premises, he was shot by a sniper five times in the chest and head.

Still calling his phone, a person finally answered the father, and he was informed that Mahmoud had been taken to hospital. “I lost my mind when I found out that he was wounded,” said the father. He headed to hospital with the mother. It was dangerous journey with snipers shooting at their car.

“I arrived at the hospital thinking my son was injured, but I found out that he had been martyred. I didn't make it on time. He was dead,” added the father.

Long operation

As the sirens wailed, members of the Palestinian military brigades took their positions in the streets and fierce battles ensued with the Israeli forces. In the meantime, Israeli military vehicles advanced in the city, accompanied by bulldozers and drones flying overhead. The Israeli military spokesman announced that an expanded military operation was underway in Jenin to eliminate Palestinian fighters. Over a thousand soldiers were deployed. They occupied several homes and buildings and imposed a tight siege on the camp.

Fighting and explosions

An Israeli patrol roams the streets of Jenin in May. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)

A team from Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt had been on the outskirts of Jenin on an unrelated task to observe the situation in the city as the war on Gaza raged on. Its arrival in Jenin coincided with the launch of the operation.

The sound of bullet fire and successive explosions filled the streets. Black smoke billowed over the city, while drones hovered overhead. Shops were shut and people sought the safety of their homes. Streets and alleyways became warzones between the Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces.

The army had besieged the camp, or what it called the “hornets' nest”, barring anyone from leaving or entering. It cut off electricity and communication lines, isolating the city from the world.

The Israeli forces also barred the entry of ambulances and the evacuation of the wounded, even opening fire at them. Journalists were also prevented from entering.

The operation went on for 48 hours. Once the Israeli forces withdrew, the Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt team was able to enter Jenin and assess the damage and destruction. Jenin is home to 12,000 people. Houses and shops were riddled with bullets, while others were razed to the ground.

The Israeli army had escalated its operations against vital infrastructure in Jenin city and its camp. The infrastructure has become a target so that pressure would grow on the armed factions, explained the locals.

A leading member of the Fatah movement, Jamal Haweel told Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt that Israel was seeking to use the destruction to weaken the support the armed factions enjoy in Jenin.

In 2002, the Israeli forces raided Jenin camp, seeking to occupy it. The greatest battle since 1967 ensued Around 1,200 homes were destroyed and dozens of people were killed, he recalled. Israel is playing a psychological game and trying to turn the people against the factions.

“The people, however, are aware that the resistance brings them dignity and freedom despite the destruction caused by the enemy,” he stressed.

Mounting death toll

The Israeli army had intensified its operations in Jenin and the West Bank since the eruption of the war on Gaza on October 7. It has carried out over 70 raids, killing over 142 Palestinians in Jenin – the greatest death in the West Bank where 540 people have been killed and 5,200 injured. The Israeli military has also arrested over 8,000 Palestinians.

Negotiations over a ceasefire in Gaza have not included the West Bank, raising serious concerns among the Palestinians that the Israelis have more escalation in store for them. These fears have been compounded by hardline Israeli ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who vowed to take the war on Gaza to the West Bank.

A masked Palestinian is seen in Jenin city during the Israeli operation in May. (Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt)

High accuracy

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsatt spoke with fighters in Jenin as soon as Israel ended its 48-hour operation. One of their leaders remarked that this battle was different than others, saying the fighters showed “high tactics and accuracy”.

He revealed that the fighters were resorting now to ambushes and advanced explosive devices in combating the Israeli forces, sparking deep concern among Israeli military and security authorities. He added that not a single fighter was killed in the latest round of fighting. “The occupier failed in killing and wounding a single combatant,” he stated. This has forced Israel to change tactics and turn to special units and snipers and to use air cover during its raids.

Moreover, the fighter said the war in the camp is an extension to the war in Gaza. The confrontation with the Israeli army intensified after October 7, he added, revealing that some military units that had fought in Gaza were now fighting in Jenin.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
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Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)

Golden fields of wheat no longer produce the bounty they once did in Morocco. A six-year drought has imperiled the country's entire agriculture sector, including farmers who grow cereals and grains used to feed humans and livestock.

The North African nation projects this year's harvest will be smaller than last year in both volume and acreage, putting farmers out of work and requiring more imports and government subsidies to prevent the price of staples like flour from rising for everyday consumers.

"In the past, we used to have a bounty — a lot of wheat. But during the last seven or eight years, the harvest has been very low because of the drought," said Al Housni Belhoussni, a small-scale farmer who has long tilled fields outside of the city of Kenitra.

Belhoussni's plight is familiar to grain farmers throughout the world confronting a hotter and drier future. Climate change is imperiling the food supply and shrinking the annual yields of cereals that dominate diets around the world — wheat, rice, maize and barley.

In North Africa, among the regions thought of as most vulnerable to climate change, delays to annual rains and inconsistent weather patterns have pushed the growing season later in the year and made planning difficult for farmers.

In Morocco, where cereals account for most of the farmed land and agriculture employs the majority of workers in rural regions, the drought is wreaking havoc and touching off major changes that will transform the makeup of the economy. It has forced some to leave their fields fallow. It has also made the areas they do elect to cultivate less productive, producing far fewer sacks of wheat to sell than they once did.

In response, the government has announced restrictions on water use in urban areas — including on public baths and car washes — and in rural ones, where water going to farms has been rationed.

"The late rains during the autumn season affected the agriculture campaign. This year, only the spring rains, especially during the month of March, managed to rescue the crops," said Abdelkrim Naaman, the chairman of Nalsya. The organization has advised farmers on seeding, irrigation and drought mitigation as less rain falls and less water flows through Morocco's rivers.

The Agriculture Ministry estimates that this year's wheat harvest will yield roughly 3.4 million tons (3.1 billion kilograms), far less than last year's 6.1 million tons (5.5 billion kilograms) — a yield that was still considered low. The amount of land seeded has dramatically shrunk as well, from 14,170 square miles (36,700 square kilometers) to 9,540 square miles (24,700 square kilometers).

Such a drop constitutes a crisis, said Driss Aissaoui, an analyst and former member of the Moroccan Ministry for Agriculture.

"When we say crisis, this means that you have to import more," he said. "We are in a country where drought has become a structural issue."

Leaning more on imports means the government will have to continue subsidizing prices to ensure households and livestock farmers can afford dietary staples for their families and flocks, said Rachid Benali, the chairman of the farming lobby COMADER.

The country imported nearly 2.5 million tons of common wheat between January and June. However, such a solution may have an expiration date, particularly because Morocco's primary source of wheat, France, is facing shrinking harvests as well.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization ranked Morocco as the world's sixth-largest wheat importer this year, between Türkiye and Bangladesh, which both have much bigger populations.

"Morocco has known droughts like this and in some cases known droughts that las longer than 10 years. But the problem, this time especially, is climate change," Benali said.