WHO Syria Boss Accused Of Corruption, Fraud, Abuse
Plus: EU to sanction Iran, Hamas to reconcile with Assad's Syria, climber Elnaz Rekabi returns to Iran, thousands of Tunisian protesters demand President Saied's removal after 'coup,' and much more.
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WHO Syria boss accused of corruption, fraud, abuse
Staffers at the World Health Organization's Syrian office have alleged that their boss mismanaged millions of dollars, plied government officials with gifts (including computers, gold coins, and cars), and acted frivolously as COVID-19 swept the country.
More than 100 confidential documents, messages, and other materials obtained by The Associated Press show WHO officials told investigators that the agency's Syria representative, Dr. Akjemal Magtymova, engaged in abusive behavior, pressured WHO staff to sign contracts with high-ranking Syrian government politicians and consistently misspent WHO and donor funds.
Magtymova declined to respond to questions about the allegations, saying that she was "prohibited" from sharing information "due to (her) obligations as a WHO staff member." She described the accusations as "defamatory."
WHO confirmed in a statement that it has been reviewing charges made against Magtymova and said it has also enlisted the help of external investigators.
EU to add new Iran sanctions over drone supplies to Russia
European Union governments will agree to impose new sanctions on Iranian generals and entities over the use of Iranian-made drones in Russian strikes on Ukraine, four diplomats and a French official said on Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Ukraine has recently reported a spate of Russian attacks using Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones.
Iran denies supplying drones to Russia, while the Kremlin has not commented.
The sanctions, which take the form of asset freezes and travel bans, follow earlier sanctions this week targeting 15 groups and organizations linked to the crackdown on protesters in the country.
Iran Protests Spread With Uprising at Prison
The protest movement sweeping Iran spread to a Tehran prison known as a symbol of political repression in a new challenge to the Islamic Republic, with detained dissidents chanting antigovernment slogans before violence erupted and a deadly fire engulfed the facility.
Authorities said the fire killed four inmates and blamed a planned escape attempt on Saturday, Oct. 15, for the mayhem at Evin Prison, a complex in north Tehran erected by the shah five decades ago that serves as a political prison for dissidents and foreigners.
A large fire was visible at Evin from the densely populated neighboring communities, and loud bangs were heard throughout the night.
While authorities said the prison violence had nothing to do with recent protests, witnesses and advocates for the prisoners said the extraordinary incident at Evin was another sign that the leaderless movement was spreading beyond the government's control.
Protests continued across Iran over the weekend. The government has arrested hundreds of protesters, jailing the most politically active ones in Evin.
Militant Hamas group back in Damascus after years of tension
Two senior officials from the Palestinian militant Hamas group visited Syria's capital Wednesday, Oct. 19, in the first such visit since the faction was forced to leave the war-torn country a decade ago over backing armed opposition fighters.
The visit appears to be the first step toward full reconciliation between Hamas and the Syrian government. It follows a monthslong mediation by Iran and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group — both key backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Over the years, Tehran and the Iran-backed Hezbollah have maintained their relations with Hamas, despite Assad's rift with the Palestinian militants.
Before the rift, Hamas had long kept a political base in Syria, receiving Damascus' support in its campaign against Israel.
But when Syria tipped into civil war, Hamas broke with Assad and sided with the rebels fighting to oust him.
Fans cheer and clap as climber Elnaz Rekabi returns to Iran
Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi, who caused controversy by competing in an international contest without a headscarf, has returned to Iran to cheer supporters, reiterating in comments to state media she had climbed without a hijab unintentionally.
Footage had shown Rekabi, 33, scaling a wall without her head covered while representing Iran at a competition in South Korea, at a time of unprecedented protests in Iran over the death in custody of a young woman detained by morality police for "inappropriate attire."
In comments to state TV upon her arrival in Tehran, Rekabi said she had returned in "full health" and apologized to "the people of Iran for the turbulence and worry that I created," her head covered by a baseball cap and a hood as she spoke.
A crowd of well-wishers cheered, clapped, and recorded the scene on mobile phones as she was driven away from the airport.
The death last month of Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the Islamic Republic's morality police, who detained her for "inappropriate attire," prompted nationwide protests during which women removed and burned headscarves.
Thousands of Tunisian protesters demand President Saied's removal after 'coup'
Thousands of Tunisians demonstrated Saturday, Oct. 15, in the capital Tunis, denouncing a power grab by President Kais Saied and demanding accountability for the country's long-running economic crisis.
Saied staged a dramatic power grab in July last year and later pushed through a constitution enshrining his one-man rule in what critics have called a return to autocracy in the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring.
Protesters in central Tunis chanted, "Down, down," "Revolution against dictator Kais," and "The coup will fall."
Some protesters carried empty containers to symbolize the rising cost of water due to inflation, which hit 9.1% in September.
Tunisia has, in the meantime, reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $1.9 billion rescue package that could be finalized in December, the fund said on Saturday.
Russian warplanes hit targets in northwest Syria
Russia has recently escalated its attacks in areas of Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, coinciding with clashes between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Syrian government forces in the area.
Clashes erupted following HTS' incursion against the regime forces in the western countryside of Aleppo on Oct. 4, resulting in the killing of five members of the regime forces, the seizing of their weapons, and the destruction of their positions in the area, according to sources from HTS.
Turkey denies involvement with migrant incident at Greek border
Turkey denied involvement in an incident where Greece found 92 illegal migrants close to its northern border with Turkey.
Greek police said on Saturday, Oct. 15, that they rescued a group of 92 migrants who were discovered naked and believed to have crossed into Greek territory from Turkey illegally.
Greece has urged Turkey to respect a 2016 deal with the European Union in which Ankara agreed to contain the flow of migrants to Europe in exchange for billions of euros in aid.
Turkey says it has strengthened measures to prevent people smuggling.
Mine blast in Turkey: Dozens killed, many still stranded
At least 41 people were killed in a coal mine explosion in northern Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday, Oct. 15.
The blast occurred Friday night, Oct. 14, at the state-owned Turkish Hard Coal Enterprise's (TTK) mine in the town of Amasra.
A total of 110 miners were working several hundred meters underground at the time of the explosion.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 11 workers were being treated in the hospital, while 58 others had managed to escape unharmed.
Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said that initial indications of the explosion were caused by firedamp, a term referring to methane in coal mines.
Though he also said the cause of the blast was not yet known for sure.
Israel: Forces kill Palestinian who shot dead female soldier
A Palestinian gunman who killed an Israeli soldier earlier this month was shot dead Wednesday, Oct. 19, after opening fire at a security guard at a West Bank settlement near Jerusalem, Israel's prime minister Yair Lapid said.
On Oct. 8, Tamimi allegedly fired at a checkpoint from close range, killing a 19-year-old female Israeli soldier and severely wounding a security guard before disappearing toward Shuafat.
Israeli security forces placed a cordon around the refugee camp in east Jerusalem as the search dragged on for days.
Doctor among two Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in Jenin
Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinian men, including a physician, during a raid on the city of Jenin in the northern occupied West Bank on Friday, Oct. 14.
The second man killed was 20-year-old Mateen Dabaya.
In a statement, the Jenin Brigades, a Palestinian armed resistance group formed last year, identified Dabaya as a local commander in their group.
The killings occurred shortly after dozens of Israeli armored vehicles raided Jenin on Friday, Oct. 14, during which armed clashes and confrontations broke out with Israeli forces.
At least five other Palestinians have been wounded with live ammunition.
Tensions on the ground between Palestinians on one side, and Israeli forces and settlers on the other, have escalated over the past week.
At least 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the illegally occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of the year, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
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My name is Dario Sabaghi, a freelance journalist. I am interested in human rights and international news focusing on the MENA region.
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Cover photo: WHO