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Middle East roundup: Israel pounds West Bank refugee camp

Angry protests over a Quran burning and the cost of Syria’s normalisation – here’s the Middle East this week.

This week, the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin was devastated after being attacked for the second time in two weeks. Angry protests in the Middle East over a man’s burning of the Quran in Sweden. And Syria’s normalisation may be at the cost of the victims of its civil war. Here’s the Middle East this week:

Rebuilding after the rubble: Jenin’s defiance

It was reminiscent of the year 2002. That’s when Israeli forces last attacked the Jenin refugee camp with as much force as they did this past week. The latest raid lasted two days, killing 12 Palestinians, including at least three children.

Ahmad Abu Hweileh, 56, a resident of the camp, is thankful many young men were spared in the attack. The generation who grew up after the 2002 incursion, he said, are the ones continuing the struggle against the Israeli occupation.

“We lived this in 2002. The most important thing is that the young men are safe,” he said.

Some international condemnation came in, as Palestinians decried Israel’s actions as a war crime. Aid groups also sounded alarm over the scale of the attack, as bulldozers ploughed through streets and buildings, preventing life-saving medical access from reaching victims of all ages.

But analysts say the United States’ unwavering support for Israel has emboldened the far-right Israeli government’s escalating violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. In the aftermath of the raid, the White House again reiterated Israel’s “right to defend” itself. Earlier in the week, the pair signed a $3bn deal for Israel’s third purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets, which will be financed through US military aid.

return to rubble and ruin. The camp houses thousands of Palestinians, descendants of people dispossessed when Israel was created in 1948, and who live wedged next to each other in small residential buildings with tight alleyways and adjacent rooftops. As the refugees returned, they got set to rebuilding their homes right away, taking the burden of the military’s destruction upon themselves.

The Israeli army has vowed to return, describing the refugee camp as a hub for “terrorism”. But for Palestinians, the Jenin refugee camp will always be a symbol of resistance.

Quran burning fuels ire

The backlash was immediate after Salwan Momika, an Iraqi refugee who fled to Sweden several years ago, tore up and set alight pages of the Islamic holy book as Muslims celebrated the Eid al-Adha festival.

Governments in the Middle East and North Africa issued strong statements and summoned Swedish ambassadors in their countries. Iran said it would refrain from sending a new ambassador to Sweden in protest over the incident. And protests rocked Baghdad, where thousands of Iraqis set fire to a rainbow-coloured flag representing the LGBTQ community, and instead held the Quran, chanting “Yes, yes to the Quran!”

The 57-country-strong Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) even convened an emergency meeting over the burning, saying international law and other collective measures are needed to prevent future incidents involving the desecration of the Quran.

Swedish police had acknowledged that Momika’s protest could have “foreign policy consequences” when his permit to hold the provocative event was issued – and strained ties in the Middle East may have been the result

#SyriaTrip – but at what cost?

Even as much of the Arab world pushes for normalisation with Syria, the war there has still not come to an end. You wouldn’t think that’s the case if a video blog from certain travel influencers turned up on your social media feed. In recent years, a wave of travel vloggers have gone on trips to Syria, organised and facilitated by the Syrian government. The influencers say they are apolitical, but critics say they help the Syrian government whitewash war crimes and present a picture that Syria has fully moved on from the war.

Many in the country still live in poverty due to the war. In the country’s northwest, Syrians fear “death by starvation” as the UN authorisation of aid deliveries through Syria’s border with Turkey is set to expire soon, held up by threats from the Syrian government and its ally, Russia.

And more than 130,000 people remain missing from the war. The UN this week approved a resolution that will establish an independent body to determine what happened to them. For victims, survivors and the families of the missing, it’s just a small step towards justice.

Quote of the Week

“They are unable to destroy the resistance, or our camp, or to break our spirits, or make us afraid.” | Anaam Awwad, a resident of the Jenin refugee camp.

Source: Al Jazeera