KABUL: Four international aid agencies including Save the Children said on Sunday they were suspending their humanitarian programs in Afghanistan in response to the Taliban-run administration’s order to stop female employees from working.
The administration on Saturday ordered all local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) not to let female staff work until further notice. It said the move, which was condemned globally, was justified because some women had not adhered to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic dress code for women.
Three NGOs — Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International — said in a joint statement that they were suspending their programs as they awaited clarity on the administration’s order.
“We cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff,” the statement said, adding that, without women driving the effort, they would not have reached millions of Afghans in need since August last year.
Separately, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a statement that it was suspending its services in the country, citing similar reasons. IRC said it employs more than 8,000 people in Afghanistan, over 3,000 of whom are women.
The suspension of some aid programs that millions of Afghans access comes at a time when more than half the population relies on humanitarian aid, according to aid agencies, and during the mountainous nation’s coldest season.
Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International also highlighted the effect of the ban on female staff on thousands more jobs in the midst of an economic crisis.
Earlier, international aid agency AfghanAid said it was immediately suspending operations while it consulted with other organizations, and that other NGOs were taking similar actions.
The International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan also on Sunday expressed concern at the move and an earlier bar on women from attending university, warning of “catastrophic humanitarian consequences in the short to long term.”
“Obliged to comply”
A spokesman for the Taliban administration, Zabihullah Mujahid, hit back at the criticism, saying all institutions wanting to operate in Afghanistan are obliged to comply with the rules of the country.
“We do not allow anyone to talk rubbish or make threats regarding the decisions of our leaders under the title of humanitarian aid,” Mujahid said in a post on Twitter, referring to a statement by the head of US Mission to Afghanistan.
Chargé d’Affaires Karen Decker had taken to Twitter to question how the Taliban planned to prevent hunger among women and children following the ban. She pointed out that the United States was the largest humanitarian aid donor to the country.
JAKARTA: Dozens of Rohingya refugees arrived on the shores of Indonesia’s northernmost province of Aceh on Sunday, the National Refugee Task Force said, amid international pleas for the Southeast Asian nation to rescue hundreds of others who have been adrift for weeks on boats in the Indian Ocean.
The group, comprising 57 people, had sailed from Myanmar and was headed to Malaysia, the Indonesian Coast Guard said in a statement.
“The boat’s engine had failed and it had been stranded at sea for approximately one month,” the statement read. “From the surviving passengers, we received information that they had been sailing without an adequate supply of food.”
Eros Shidqy Putra, a member of Indonesia’s National Refugee Task Force, said the refugees arrived on Sunday morning in the waters of Aceh Besar district.
“Right now, the refugees are under the supervision of the Social Affairs Agency in Aceh Besar and the International Organization for Migration,” Putra told Arab News.
The Rohingya refugees were found by villagers in the area, according to a report by the Associated Press, citing local officials.
Two boats carrying refugees, including women and children, had entered Indonesian waters near Aceh on Friday evening, according to Amnesty International, which urged the government to allow them to safely disembark.
At least five boats had left the coast of Cox’s Bazar, the largest Rohingya settlement in Bangladesh, in late November, attempting to cross the Andaman Sea to another host country.
The UN Refugee Agency cited on Saturday unconfirmed reports of one boat that had sunk, while reporting the deaths of at least 20 people on another vessel as it urged countries in the region to “help save lives.”
IOM confirmed to Arab News that they are working with the refugee task force and local government “to provide support and a safe arrival” for the Rohingya refugees.
“IOM applauds the government and local community in Indonesia for reaching out, in humanitarian spirit, sustaining assistance to those who have needed protection,” IOM’s Chief of Mission in Indonesia Louis Hoffman said in a statement.
But another boat reportedly carrying 160 Rohingya people was still stranded in the Malacca Strait as of Sunday afternoon, a relative of one of the passengers told Arab News.
Mohammed Rezuwan Khan, a Rohingya activist in Cox’s Bazar whose 27-year-old sister and 5-year-old niece are onboard, said the boat had no supplies.
“They said: ‘We don’t have food and water,’” Khan said. “They keep crying for urgent disembarkation.”
ISLAMABAD: The US Embassy in Islamabad on Sunday warned its staff of a possible attack on Americans at a top hotel in Pakistan’s capital as the city was already on high alert following a suicide bombing earlier in the week.
The US government is aware of information that “unknown individuals are possibly plotting to attack Americans at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad sometime during the holidays,” the embassy said in a security alert. The advisory banned its American personnel from visiting the popular hotel over the holidays.
The US mission also urged all personnel to refrain from non-essential travel in Islamabad during the holiday season.
The embassy directive came two days after a suicide bombing in a residential area of the capital killed a police officer and wounded ten others. The explosion happened when police stopped a taxi for inspection during a patrol. According to the police, a rear seat passenger detonated explosives he was carrying, blowing up the vehicle.
Militants with the Pakistani Taliban, who are separate from but allied with Afghanistan’s rulers, later claimed the attack.
Islamabad’s administration has since put the city on high alert, banning public gatherings and processions, even as campaigns are ongoing for upcoming local elections. Police have stepped up patrols and established snap checkpoints to inspect vehicles across the city.
A suicide bombing targeted the capital’s Marriott Hotel in September 2008, in one of the deadliest such incidents in the capital. Attackers drove a dump truck up to the hotel’s gates before detonating it, killing 63 people and wounding over 250 others.
LONDON: King Charles III has hailed the “heartfelt solidarity” of people across the recession-hit UK struggling with a worsening cost of living crisis, in his first Christmas Day message as monarch.
Addressing the country from the Windsor Castle chapel where his mother, Elizabeth II, was interred in September, the 74-year-old also thanked people for the “love and sympathy” expressed following her death.
Standing aside a sparkling Christmas tree, the sovereign noted in the annual royal message — broadcast at 1500 GMT — that it is a “particularly poignant time for all of us who have lost loved ones.”
He then turned to the impact of the country’s growing economic woes, as decades-high inflation eats into earnings and escalates strikes over pay across the public and private sectors.
“I particularly want to pay tribute to all those wonderfully kind people who so generously give food or donations, or… their time, to support those around them in greatest need,” Charles said, dressed in a blue suit.
“Our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and gurdwaras have once again united in feeding the hungry, providing love and support throughout the year.”
The king also commended charities for their “extraordinary work in the most difficult circumstances.”
He added: “Such heartfelt solidarity is the most inspiring expression of loving our neighbor as our self.”
Charles ascended to the throne when Elizabeth died on September 8 after a record-breaking seven-decade reign.
He also took over as head of state of 14 Commonwealth countries, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
His coronation will take place on May 6 next year, with Buckingham Palace vowing to reflect the monarchy’s historic traditions and its modern role.
In his inaugural Christmas message, Charles said both he and his late mother shared “a belief in the extraordinary ability of each person to touch, with goodness and compassion, the lives of others.”
“This is the essence of our community and the very foundation of our society,” he added, praising public sector workers from the armed forces to emergency responders to teachers.
In a return to tradition for Britain’s royals — interrupted by the pandemic — they will gather for Christmas Day this year at Sandringham, their private winter retreat in eastern England.
However, US-based Prince Harry and wife Meghan will be notable absentees, as their ongoing feud with the family shows little sign of abating.
The couple risked deepening the rift — which first became public when they sensationally quit royal life in early 2020 — by airing various grievances in a six-part Netflix docuseries this month.
It follows a series of other broadsides they have launched against the royal family since relocating to California, with more set to come.
Harry will publish a contentious memoir — named “Spare” — within weeks.
QUETTA: Mohammed Ishaq scrambled to arrange an expensive private ambulance to Karachi after his younger brother experienced intense chest pain earlier this week in a remote village in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan.
But before Ishaq could embark on the long journey from a village in Killa Abdullah district to the port city of Karachi in a neighboring province, he discovered that his brother could receive equally good treatment at a new public hospital much closer to home in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan.
Constructed on an area of more than 120,000 square meters, the 120-bed Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Institute of Cardiology was fully inaugurated just last month. Built by the UAE at a cost of $27.3 million provided by the Abu Dhabi Development Fund, the facility is now open even for complicated surgeries.
“I hired a rented ambulance to take my younger brother Asmatullah to Karachi after he suffered severe chest pains,” Ishaq told Arab News. “However, a relative informed us there was a new cardiac facility in Quetta and we decided to bring him here in the early hours of Wednesday.”
The hospital opened its outpatient department in May before starting angioplasties and more complex heart surgeries six months later. In the 26 days since the facility’s full inauguration, 12 bypass and valve replacement operations have been performed there.
Asif Khan, a 60-year-old resident of Quetta’s Nawa Killi neighborhood who had open-heart surgery at the hospital on Dec. 20, said that he previously had to travel twice to Sukkur in neighboring Sindh province for treatment after he was first diagnosed with heart disease in April.
“Then I visited the Sheikh Zayed Al-Nahyan Institute of Cardiology for my medical checkup in the first week of December,” he said, “and the doctors gave me assurances that my open-heart surgery could also be performed here.”
Dr. Khuzaima Tariq, who has worked at the facility for the last six months, said that the institute is the only hospital in Balochistan where a full range of cardiac treatments are available.
“This health facility is available for people belonging to all four provinces of the country,” she said.
“All cardiac facilities are available here. Starting from Cath Lab, placement of pacemakers, open-heart surgery, everything is available here. We have a modular theater where we have started open-heart surgeries.”
Tariq declined to comment on whether surgeries at the facility were subsidized or how much patients were charged.
Dr. Mohammed Hashim, her colleague, said that a large number of patients were regularly arriving at the hospital now, adding that many people from neighboring Afghanistan were also visiting for consultations and treatment.
“Until recently, the residents of Balochistan were deprived of quality heart treatment,” he said. “Now, the patients who used to travel to places like Karachi and Sukkur have started getting proper treatment by professional healthcare experts.”
Another heart patient, Zahoor Ahmed, said he was relieved that there was finally a state-of-the-art facility close to home.
“Doctors referred me to travel to Sukkur but from here, transport to Sukkur was very expensive. It was very far,” Ahmed said from his hospital bed at the facility. “Now here, it is near, and in one place we are getting all the facilities.”
JOHANNESBURG: South Africa was coming to grips Sunday with the full extent of the destruction and deaths caused by a Christmas Eve tanker truck explosion near Johannesburg as officials reported the death toll rising to 15.
The truck was carrying gas when it got stuck under a low-lying bridge in the town of Boksburg, on Saturday, sparking flames. As firefighters worked to extinguish the flames the tanker exploded, according to emergency services officials.
“Yesterday (Saturday), the death toll was at 10 people and now we are sitting at 15 as of this morning,” Joe Phaahla told reporters at Tambo Memorial Hospital.
A “fire bomb” from the explosion substantially damaged Tambo Memorial Hospital, located about 100 meters (110 yards) away, authorities said.
Thirty-seven people were injured, including 24 patients and 13 staff members who were in the hospital’s accident and emergency unit at the time of the blast.
They “sustained severe burns and have been diverted to neighboring hospitals,” Phaahla said.
Others were hit by shattered glass, he added, while some were hurt as they were in the parking lot or in front of the hospital.
“We send our deepest condolences for the families that lost their loved ones,” he said.
The health minister said the blast severely damaged the hospital’s accident and emergency unit and X-ray departments.
“The roof was damaged, ceilings fell, windows broken, and other equipment damaged,” Phaahla said.
On most of the hospital’s floors, windows had shattered, he added.
Several houses and vehicles were also damaged by the explosion, according to officials.
Residents who had gathered to see the burning truck fled from the explosion, some with their clothes burned off, witnesses told the News24 news website. At least 321 injured people were taken to the damaged hospital, though some were later transferred to other Johannesburg-area hospitals.
Videos on social media showed a huge fireball under the bridge, which the tanker appeared to have been too high to go under.
It was carrying 60,000 liters of LPG, which is used especially in cooking and gas stoves, and had come from the southeast of the country. It was en route to Botswana from South Africa’s Indian Ocean port of Richards Bay, said officials. Questions were being asked about why the tanker was on an indirect local route and not on a major highway.
The incident will be investigated, said Tania Campbell, the mayor of Ekurhuleni, the municipality which includes Boksburg.
Witness Jean Marie Booysen described on Saturday how she felt a “huge jolt” in the early hours of the morning, shortly after 6:30 a.m. (0430 GMT).
“I went upstairs to have my cup of tea and I saw immense flames, I thought a house was on fire.”
She said she later learned of the deaths of “two… here across the road, 16, the girl, and 25, the boy, who came and did my lawn every weekend for me.”
“A fireball in the sky,” is how resident Rolf Bjornstad described the explosion to News24.
“There was heat coming into the house. I thought of my wife, kids, and helping the affected people,” he said.
Another witness named William, who did not give his surname, said people nearby had felt the blast.
“I think I was 50 meters (164 feet) away from the scene… We did burn behind our backs,” he said.
(With AFP and AP)