Thailand resmi legalkan pernikahan sesama jenis – Apa dampaknya ke komunitas LGBT di Indonesia?

Perayaaan RUU pernikahan sesama jenis di Thailand
Keterangan gambar,Komunitas LGBTQ+ di Thailand merayakan pengumuman disahkannya RUU kesetaraan pernikahan oleh Senat pada Selasa (18/6)

Thailand selama ini dianggap sebagai tujuan wisata di Asia Tenggara yang ramah bagi mereka dengan identitas gender dan orientasi seksual yang beragam – termasuk dari Indonesia. Dengan disahkannya pernikahan sesama jenis di Thailand, apakah orang-orang LGBTQ+ di Indonesia terdorong untuk pindah ke negara itu demi mendapat ruang yang nyaman?

“‘Ya, sudah, kita nikah saja, yuk?’” kata Langit (bukan nama sebenarnya) menirukan candaan teman kencannya yang orang Thailand menyusul diloloskannya rancangan undang-undang (RUU) kesetaraan pernikahan oleh Senat Thailand.

Di bawah UU ini, orang-orang dengan identitas gender dan orientasi seksual yang beragam dapat menikah – termasuk pasangan homoseksual.

“[Cuma bercanda] tetapi dengan [dia] bilang begitu aku kepikiran mungkin dengan dilegalkan aku jadi punya jalan yang lebih mudah untuk dapat permanent residence [izin tinggal permanen].”

Langit, 26 tahun, sudah menetap di Bangkok selama 1,5 tahun terakhir. Laki-laki gay asal Bandung, Jawa Barat, itu bekerja di sebuah perusahaan bidang media sosial di Thailand.

Sebagai bagian dari komunitas LGBTQ+, Langit mengaku sudah mengalami perundungan terkait identitas seksualnya sejak masih remaja yang masih membekas di pikirannya sampai sekarang.

Teman kencannya tahu akan hal itu.

Langit mendengar kabar RUU kesetaraan pernikahan diloloskan saat tengah bersantai di sebuah kafe di Nonthaburi – kota di luar Bangkok pada Selasa (18/6).

“Aku senang… tapi enggak terlalu kaget karena sudah mendengar desas-desusnya sejak lama,” ujarnya kepada wartawan Amahl Azwar yang melaporkan untuk BBC News Indonesia pada Rabu (19/6).

Di Thailand, Langit mengaku merasa lebih terlindungi, bahkan sebelum Senat melolos RUU kesetaraan pernikahan. Dia mengaku bisa lebih mengekspresikan diri di negara itu dan dapat dengan lugas menyebut identitasnya ke orang asing sekalipun.

“Kalau boleh jujur, perbandingan 180 derajat. Sebagai gay jauh lebih tenang, tenteram, nyaman, dan aman dibanding Indonesia,” ujar Langit yang juga sempat mengikuti parade LGBT Pride di Bangkok.

Gagasan untuk pindah secara permanen ke Thailand dengan diloloskannya RUU kesetaraan pernikahan ini memang ada di benaknya, tetapi Langit mengaku lebih memikirkan nasib teman-temannya di Indonesia.

“Aku merasa bersyukur [karena privilese tinggal di Thailand], tapi di satu sisi juga merasa bersalah. Sampai sekarang kalau ada lowongan kerja di kantorku, aku langsung membagikannya ke teman-teman LGBTQ+. Kalau bisa sih semua teman-teman queer di Indonesia pindah ke Thailand,” ujar Langit.

Salah satu teman Langit yang sedang berupaya untuk pindah ke Thailand adalah Krisan (juga bukan nama sebenarnya), 27 tahun. Dia adalah perempuan lesbian asal Bandung, Jawa Barat.

Krisan mengaku berasal dari keluarga Muslim yang konservatif. Sejak 2021, dia sudah memutuskan hubungan dengan keluarganya yang hingga kini masih berusaha mencarinya untuk ikut terapi konversi.

“[Keluarga] sampai-sampai mencari aku ke tempat mantan [pacar] aku dan bawa-bawa tukang pukul,” tutur Krisan dengan suara pelan.

Langit sangat mendukung perjuangan Krisan supaya bisa pindah.

“Aku tahu latar belakang. Aku berusaha biar dia bisa pindah ke sini,” ujarnya.

Thailand jadi tujuan bagi LGBT asal Indonesia?

pasangan LGBTQ+ di Thailand merayakan pengesahan RUU kesetaraan pernikahan dengan berparade menaiki tuk-tuk (moda transportasi tradisional setempat)
Keterangan gambar,Bagi komunitas LGBTQ+ Thailand, disahkannya RUU kesetaraan pernikahan adalah sebuah “kemenangan”

Direktur Eksekutif Koalisi Pasifik Asia untuk Kesehatan Seksual Pria (APCOM), Midnight Poonkasetwattana, yang berbasis di Bangkok, mengatakan komunitas LGBTQ+ di Thailand sudah menanti pengesahan RUU kesetaraan pernikahan selama satu dekade.

“Rasanya luar biasa menyaksikan pemungutan suara Senat kemarin mayoritas mendukung pernikahan LGBTQI – apalagi ini terjadi pada bulan Pride. Saya harap negara-negara lain juga mengambil langkah berani untuk menjamin setiap orang dapat memperoleh akses yang sama, termasuk LGBTQI,” ujar Midnight dalam surat elektronik yang dikirim kepada BBC News Indonesia.

Midnight pun mengakui bahwa dari segi ekonomi, Thailand banyak diuntungkan karena dipandang sebagai negara yang menerima orang-orang LGBTQ+, bahkan sebelum RUU kesetaraan pernikahan disahkan.

Dengan adanya UU kesetaraan pernikahan ini, Midnight mengatakan akan ada peningkatan tajam wisatawan LGBTQI dari Indonesia, serta negara-negara lain di kawasan ini, yang datang ke Thailand “untuk mengeksplorasi kemungkinan hidup autentik sesuai jati diri mereka tanpa harus bersembunyi, malu, atau takut akan hukuman, dibandingkan dengan negara asal mereka.”

Bella Aubree, Koordinator Nasional Inti Muda Indonesia dan pegiat isu-isu sosial, menyebut Thailand sering dianggap sebagai destinasi yang ideal dan ramah bagi teman-teman LGBTQ+, termasuk untuk orang-orang transgender yang ingin melakukan terapi penggantian hormon ataupun tindakan bedah untuk mengubah alat kelamin.

“Saya sering berbincang dengan kawan LGBTQ+ yang ingin menikah. Mereka berangan-angan untuk dapat pindah, tinggal, dan menikah di Belanda. Saya rasa Thailand akan menjadi negara tujuan menggantikan Belanda karena Thailand juga cukup dekat dari Indonesia,” ujar Bella.

“Jika situasi di Indonesia sudah benar-benar tidak aman bagi teman-teman LGBTQ+, kemungkinan LGBTQ+ yang mampu dapat berpindah ke sana.”

Warga Banda Aceh dihukum cambuk karena melakukan seks sejenis pada 23 Mei 2017
Keterangan gambar,Di Indonesia, komunitas LGBTQ+ masih mendapat persekusi. Di Aceh, hukuman cambuk sebanyak 85 kali menanti mereka yang ketahuan berhubungan seks sesama jenis.

Walaupun begitu, Bella mengingatkan bahwa tidak semua orang-orang LGBTQ+ di Indonesia mampu ataupun berdaya untuk berpindah ke negara lain.

“Bagaimana dengan mereka yang masih harus berjuang untuk mencari makan? Kita tetap harus bersama-sama memperjuangkan hak-hak LGBTQ+ karena sejatinya hak yang kita tuntut adalah hak sebagai manusia dan hak sebagai warga negara. Oleh karena itu, negara harus hadir untuk memenuhi hak tersebut,” ujar Bella.

Orang-orang LGBTQ+ Indonesia yang saat ini tinggal di Thailand pun tidak semua berpikir untuk pindah secara permanen.

Reno (bukan nama sebenarnya), pria gay 28 tahun asal Sumatera Barat yang sudah tinggal dan bekerja di Bangkok hampir dua tahun belakangan, mengaku masih memikirkan keluarganya.

“Walaupun orang tua dan keluarga besarku tidak menerimaku [sebagai gay], tapi aku masih merasa punya tanggung jawab terhadap mereka,” ujarnya.

Potensi diskriminasi baru

Protes anti-LGBT di Indonesia
Keterangan gambar,Di Indonesia, komunitas LGBTQ+ masih mendapat protes atas keberadaan mereka

Pemberitaan diloloskannya RUU kesetaraan pernikahan oleh Senat Thailand mendapat reaksi dari warganet Indonesia.

Berdasarkan penelusuran BBC News Indonesia, komentar-komentar negatif bermunculan di media sosial dan kolom komentar di berbagai laman berita seperti Kompas.com.

“Negara rusak yang akan hancur dengan sendirinya,” tulis seorang warganet.

“Paling nanti datang tsunami sama gempa bumi dahsyat,” tulis satu orang lainnya.

Dede Oetomo, sosiolog Universitas Airlangga yang juga pencetus GAYa Nusantara – organisasi pegiat hak LGBT pertama di Indonesia – menyebut komentar-komentar negatif sudah bisa diantisipasi.

“Komentar sebagian warganet Indonesia yang jahat-jahat dan menunjukkan ke-bigot-annya [kefanatikan] diikuti argumentasi agama yang sudah usang banget seperti ‘Thailand akan kena azab bencana alam’ atau dikaitkan dengan menyebarnya HIV,” ujar Dede.

“Sebagai pendidik saya sedih, tapi, ya, begitulah kualitas sebagian pendidikan kita.”

Menurut Dede, masalah yang paling mendesak bagi komunitas LGBTQ+ Indonesia saat ini masih merujuk kepada hal-hal yang mendasar seperti masih adanya diskriminasi di bidang pendidikan dan pekerjaan.

Koordinator Nasional Inti Muda Indonesia, Bella Aubree, mencemaskan pengesahan RUU kesetaraan pernikahan justru akan membuat para pembuat kebijakan di Indonesia menanggapinya dengan membuat rancangan peraturan yang diskriminatif sebagai bentuk pencegahan agar hal itu tidak terjadi di Indonesia.

“Hal ini mungkin saja terjadi mengingat beberapa tahun kebelakang cukup banyak rancangan peraturan daerah yang diskriminatif terhadap LGBTQ+,” ujarnya.

Berdasarkan data Arus Pelangi, ada sekitar 45 regulasi anti-LGBTQ+ di Indonesia mulai tahun 2006 sampai 2018. Jumlah regulasi ini cenderung meningkat menjelang Pilkada dan Pemilu seperti terlihat di tahun 2016, 2018 dan 2023.

Andreas Harsono dari Human Rights Watch Indonesia menyoroti RUU Revisi Kitab Undang-Undang Hukum Pidana (RKUHP) Tahun 2022 yang mengkriminalkan orang-orang LGBTQ+.

“Semua peraturan ini perlu ditinggalkan dan tentu perlu dicabut,” tutur Andreas.

Akan tetapi, Hidayat Nur Wahid, anggota Komisi VIII Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat yang membidangi isu agama dan sosial dari Fraksi Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS) dalam keterangan resminya menyebut “perkawinan sejenis” di Thailand justru harus diwaspadai.

“Seluruh pemangku kepentingan di Indonesia, baik pemerintah, DPR, ormas-ormas keagamaan dan masyarakat luas, harus waspada agar penyimpangan laku seksual dengan pernikahan sejenis semacam ini tidak dijadikan dalih untuk diperbolehkannya nikah sejenis di Indonesia, yang menjadi pintu penyebaran penyimpangan LGBT secara lebih luas lagi,” ujar Hidayat yang juga Wakil Ketua Majelis Permusyawaratan Rakyat.

“Meski Thailand memiliki kedaulatannya sendiri, Raja Thailand perlu mempertimbangkan RUU itu dengan bijaksana. Karena apabila itu disahkan, maka itu dapat berdampak buruk dan mencoreng kawasan Asia Tenggara atau ASEAN,” tuturnya lagi.

Hidayat menyebut salah satu yang dapat dilakukan adalah dengan segera menyiapkan dan membahas RUU Anti-Propaganda Penyimpangan Seksual untuk masuk ke Program Legislasi Nasional (Prolegnas) 2020-2024

“Ini yang harus kita siapkan di DPR bersama dengan Pemerintah. Apabila tidak bisa pada DPR periode ini, ini bisa diteruskan untuk diperjuangkan hingga sah di DPR berikutnya,” jelasnya.

Kepada BBC News Indonesia, Hidayat mengatakan aturan-aturan anti-LGBT bukanlah sesuatu yang diskriminatif. Menurutnya, tindakan yang tidak sesuai dengan hukum dan konstitusi apabila dibiarkan malah bisa disebut sebagai “diskriminasi”.

“Karena perilaku lain yang tak sesuai dengan Konstitusi dan Undang-Undang seperti judi online larangannya juga diatur dalam peraturan perundangan,” ujarnya.

Bella Aubree dari Inti Muda menyebut para pegiat saat ini sedang bersama-sama melakukan advokasi, mendesak pemerintah Indonesia untuk segera mengesahkan UU Anti Diskriminasi yang dapat menjadi peluang bagi kelompok rentan termasuk teman-teman LGBTQ+ untuk mendapatkan perlindungan dari diskriminasi yang terjadi.

“Harapannya melalui UU Anti Diskriminasi ini dapat menjadi langkah awal untuk menciptakan lingkungan aman bagi kelompok rentan termasuk LGBTQ+,” ujarnya.

Kembali ke Thailand, RUU kesetaraan pernikahan membutuhkan persetujuan Raja Maha Vajiralongkorn dan berlaku 120 hari setelah dipublikasikan surat kabar resmi kerajaan – artinya pernikahan sesama jenis pertama yang resmi di Thailand bisa jadi dilakukan tahun.

Meski begitu, Langit mengingatkan hal ini bukan berarti komunitas LGBTQ+ di Thailand 100% terbebas dari diskriminasi.

“Jangan terlalu terlena sampai ngelupain kalau sebetulnya masih ada orang-orang queer di Thailand yang terdiskriminasi,” ujarnya.

Direktur Eksekutif Koalisi Pasifik Asia untuk Kesehatan Seksual Pria (APCOM), Midnight Poonkasetwattana mengakui hal ini.

“Banyak orang tidak tahu bahwa kami tidak memiliki undang-undang anti-diskriminasi. Komunitas transgender kami gendernya pun tidak diakui dalam dokumen legal,” ujarnya.

Meski begitu, secara keseluruhan Langit tetap merasa lebih aman berada di Thailand.

“Kantor aku sangat ramah terhadap queer, tapi orang-orang Indonesianya [yang bekerja di sini] enggak, aku masih dengar gunjingan homofobik dari mereka,” ujar Langit.

“Tapi aku sudah tidak peduli. Kalau misalnya hal ini bereskalasi juga tinggal dilaporkan. Karena sekarang aku di Thailand, aku lebih terlindungi.”

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Euro 2024: Jadwal pertandingan, ‘grup neraka’, dan favorit juara

Italia, Euro 2024
Keterangan gambar,Juara bertahan Italia akan berada di Grup B Euro 2024 bersama Spanyol, Kroasia, dan Albania.

Penantian para pecinta sepakbola hampir berakhir. Sebanyak 16 tim sepak bola nasional papan atas Eropa akan mulai berkompetisi di Piala Eropa 2024 atau Euro 2024 dalam waktu kurang dari 10 hari.

Ketika 16 negara telah terbagi ke dalam empat grup dan jadwal pertandingan telah ditentukan, berikut rincian lengkap untuk Euro 2024.

Kapan turnamen akan dimulai?

Digelar di Jerman, Euro 2024 resmi dimulai pada 14 Juni mendatang di Allianz Arena, kandang Bayern Munich.

Skotlandia akan menjadi tim yang menghadapi tuan rumah pada pertandingan pertama turnamen tersebut.

Akan ada dua hingga empat pertandingan setiap hari di babak grup hingga 26 Juni dan babak 16 besar akan dimulai pada 29 Juni.

Dari empat grup, terdapat dua ‘grup neraka’ yang masing-masing dihuni setidaknya dua tim kuat. Kedua grup itu adalah Grup B dan Grup D.

Grup B berisi Spanyol, Kroasia, Italia, Albania. Sedangkan Grup D berisi Polandia, Belanda, Austria, Prancis.

Anda bisa mengunduh kalender Euro 2024 melalui tautan ini

kalender Euro 2024

Ajang ini akan berakhir pada hari Minggu, 14 Juli di Olympiastadion, Berlin.

Euro 2024 akan menjadi turnamen pertama yang diselenggarakan Jerman sejak reunifikasi. PIala Eropa edisi tahun 1988 diadakan di Jerman Barat.

Kapan tiket pertandingan mulai dijual?

Tiket pertandingan awalnya dijual untuk umum dari tanggal 3 hingga 26 Oktober 2023 lalu dan dialokasikan melalui undian.

Fase penjualan utama tiket UEFA EURO 2024 sekarang telah berakhir.

UEFA memperingatkan para penggemar bahwa penjual tiket tidak resmi berupaya mengeksploitasi tingginya permintaan dengan menawarkan tiket palsu di pasar sekunder.

Siapa difavoritkan menjadi juara?

Inggris adalah favorit semua bandar taruhan di Inggris pada saat artikel ini disusun, dengan peluang 3/1.

Prancis di urutan kedua dengan peluang 4/1 dan tuan rumah Jerman di urutan ketiga dengan 5/1.

Georgia, Albania, Slovenia dan Slovakia dianggap sebagai tim dengan kemungkinan juara paling kecil, masing-masing antara 200/1 hingga 900/1.

Bagaimana pembagian grup Euro 2024?

Grup A: Jerman, Skotlandia, Hungaria, Swiss

Grup B: Spanyol, Kroasia, Italia, Albania

Grup C: Slovenia, Denmark, Serbia, Inggris

Grup D: Polandia, Belanda, Austria, Prancis

Grup E: Belgia, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraina

Grup F: Turki, Georgia, Portugal, Republik Cekohttps://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/18266670/embed?auto=1

Bagaimana cara menonton pertandingan di Indonesia?

Grup MNC memegang hak siar tunggal Euro 2024 di Indonesia. Publik memiliki opsi menyaksikan tayangan pertandingan secara gratis dan berbayar melalui siaran yang mereka sajikan.

Bagaimana performa tim peserta Euro 2024?

Menjelang turnamen, enam tim tidak terkalahkan selama kualifikasi. Mereka adalah Prancis, Inggris, Portugal, Belgia, Romania, dan Hungaria.

Portugal adalah satu-satunya tim yang memenangkan setiap pertandingan. Mereka mengakhiri kualifikasi dengan mencetak 36 gol dan hanya kebobolan dua kali.

Spanyol dan Skotlandia hanya kalah satu kali, sedangkan Turki dan Austria juga lolos dengan rekor tak kalah impresif.

Meskipun Portugal memenangkan setiap pertandingan kualifikasi, mereka tidak memiliki pencetak gol terbanyak dalam fase kualifikasi.

Pencetak gol terbanyak adalah penyerang Inter Milan, Romelu Lukaku, yang mencetak 14 gol dalam delapan pertandingan untuk Belgia.

Stadion mana saja yang akan menggelar laga?

Allianz Arena dan Olympiastadion akan terlihat sepanjang turnamen. Total ada 10 kota tuan rumah, termasuk Cologne dan Dortmund.

Signal Iduna Park, kandang klub Borussia Dortmund, akan menjadi tuan rumah pertandingan di Grup B, D dan F, sekaligus terpilih sebagai salah satu venue babak 16 besar dan semifinal.

Berikut daftar lengkap tempat penyelenggaraan turnamen tersebut:

  • Berlin: Olympiastadion (70.000 tempat duduk)
  • Cologne: Cologne Stadium (47.000)
  • Dortmund: BVB Stadion Dortmund (66.000)
  • Dusseldorf: Dusseldorf Arena (47.000)
  • Frankfurt: Frankfurt Arena (48.000)
  • Gelsenkirchen: Arena AufSchalke (50.000)
  • Hamburg: Volksparkstadion Hamburg (50.000)
  • Leipzig: Leipzig Stadium (42.000)
  • Munich: Munich Football Arena (67.000)
  • Stuttgart: Stuttgart Arena (54.000)

Siapa pesepakbola populer yang tak akan berlaga di Euro 2024?

Penyerang Manchester City, Erling Haaland, dan gelandang Arsenal, Martin Odegaard, tidak akan ambil bagian dalam kompetisi ini karena Norwegia gagal lolos.

Di grup kualifikasi yang sama dengan Spanyol dan Skotlandia, mereka tidak mengumpulkan cukup poin untuk mendapatkan tempat otomatis dan juga tidak bisa lolos melalui babak play-off.

Swedia adalah negara penting lainnya yang tidak akan ambil bagian di Jerman, karena gagal lolos untuk pertama kalinya sejak tahun 1996.

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Hamas seeks ‘complete halt’ to war in Gaza proposal response

Getty Images A boy walks through rubble in Gaza

Hamas says it has submitted its response to a US-backed plan for a ceasefire in Gaza, with a senior group official telling the BBC that it still requires an Israeli commitment to a permanent ceasefire.

In a statement, the group, and its Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) allies, expressed “readiness to positively” reach a deal.

The proposed ceasefire plan – which was endorsed by the UN security council on Monday night – calls for a six-week ceasefire that would eventually become permanent.

Qatar and Egypt – who, along with the US, have mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas – confirmed that the Palestinian group had submitted its reply.

In its statement on Tuesday evening, Hamas called for a “complete halt” to fighting in Gaza.

“The response prioritises the interests of our Palestinian people and emphasises the necessity of a complete halt to the ongoing aggression on Gaza,” Hamas and the PIJ said.

The groups added that they were ready “to engage positively to reach an agreement that ends this war”.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said it was “helpful” that Hamas had submitted a response and that US officials were “evaluating” the group’s requests.

Earlier on Tuesday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had “reaffirmed his commitment” to the Gaza ceasefire plan and the world was waiting for the Hamas response.

The proposal set out by President Biden last month involves an initial six-week ceasefire, with Hamas releasing some hostages in exchange for Israel releasing an undefined number of Palestinian prisoners.

A second phase would see the remaining hostages released by Hamas and a total withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza as part of a “permanent” ceasefire, but the latter would still be subject to negotiations.

The actual Israeli proposal – reportedly lengthier than the summary presented by Mr Biden – has not been made public and it is unclear whether it varies from what the president conveyed in his statement on 31 May. It was presented to Hamas days prior to Mr Biden’s speech.

Mr Netanyahu has acknowledged his war cabinet has authorised the plan but has not voiced unequivocally support for it. Far right members of his cabinet have threatened to quit his coalition and trigger its collapse if the deal goes forward, seeing it as surrender to Hamas.

As Mr Blinken met Israeli officials in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, protesters outside his hotel held American flags calling for an agreement. Many held pictures of hostages and chanted: “SOS, USA”, and “we trust you, Blinken, seal a deal”.

Vicki Cohen, the mother of Nimrod Cohen, 19, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas on 7 October, held a banner showing his picture.

She told the BBC: “We come here to ask Blinken and the USA government to help us, to save us from our government. Our prime minister doesn’t want to bring our loved ones back, we need their help to pressure our government.”

He then travelled to the Dead Sea for a conference of Arab leaders calling for greater aid access into Gaza, where he said Israel “can do more”. He also announced $404 million in new aid for Palestinians, urging other countries to also “step up” assistance.

The war began after Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people and taking 251 others back to Gaza as hostages. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 37,000 people have been killed in the Israeli offensive since then.

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The impact of recognising a Palestinian state

Reuters A Palestinian girl carries cans to collect water in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on 22 May
Many countries say they will only recognise a Palestinian state as part of a long-term political solution

As fighting and suffering continues in Gaza, and violence grows in the West Bank, prospects of the Palestinian people gaining their own state might seem further away than ever.

The decision by several European countries to formally recognise the existence of a Palestinian state will not overcome the reality that such ambition still faces huge obstacles.

But the declarations by Ireland, Spain and Norway will put pressure on other countries in Europe – including the UK, France and Germany – to follow them in supporting Palestinian self-determination.

“This is extremely significant,” one Arab diplomat said. “It reflects European frustration with the Israeli government’s refusal to listen.

“And it puts pressure on the EU to follow suit.”

But Israeli ministers insist this will encourage Hamas and reward terrorism, further reducing the chances of a negotiated settlement.

Most countries – about 139 in all – formally recognise a Palestinian state.

On May 10, 143 out of 193 members of the United Nations’ general assembly voted in favour of a Palestinian bid for full UN membership, something that is only open to states.

Palestine currently has a kind of enhanced observer status at the UN, which gives them a seat but not a vote in the assembly.

It is also recognised by various international organisations including the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

A minority of European countries already recognise a Palestinian state. They comprise Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria which adopted the position 1988; and others including Sweden, Cyprus and Malta.

But many European nations – and the United States – say they will recognise a Palestinian state only as part of a long-term political solution to the conflict in the Middle East.

This is often referred to as the ‘two-state solution’ where both Israelis and Palestinians agree to have their own states with their own borders.

European countries and the US differ over when they should recognise a Palestinian state.

Ireland, Spain and Norway say they are doing so now to kick-start a political process. They argue there will be a sustained solution to the current crisis only if both sides can aim at some kind of political horizon.

These countries are also responding to domestic political pressures to show more support for Palestinians.

In the past, the position of many Western countries was that Palestinian statehood should be a prize for a final peace agreement.

But Lord Cameron, the UK Foreign Secretary, and some other European countries have in recent months shifted their positions, saying the recognition of Palestinian statehood could come earlier, to help drive momentum towards a political settlement.

In February, President Macron of France said: “The recognition of a Palestinian state is not a taboo for France.”

And earlier this month, France supported Palestinian membership of the UN in the general assembly vote.

The US has privately discussed this issue with European allies but is more cautious and wants a clearer sense of what the policy would mean in practice.

So the key debate behind the scenes is about when these holdout countries should recognise a Palestinian state: when formal peace talks begin between Israelis and Palestinians, when Israel and Saudi Arabia normalise diplomatic relations, when Israel fails to undertake certain actions, or when the Palestinians take certain actions.

In other words, they want recognition of the state of Palestine to be a big moment designed to achieve a diplomatic outcome.

“It is a big card that Western countries have to play,” one Western official said. “We don’t want to throw it away.”

The problem is that recognising a Palestinian state is largely a symbolic gesture if it does not also address the vital concomitant questions.

What should the borders be? Where should the capital be located? What should both sides do first to make it happen?

These are difficult questions that have not been agreed – or even answered – satisfactorily for decades.

As of today, a few more countries in Europe now believe there should be a Palestinian state.

Supporters will cheer the move, opponents will decry it.

The grim reality for Palestinians on the ground is unlikely to change.

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Domestic tourism soars in China but foreigners stay away

BBC/KATHERINA TSE A popular thing to do in Wuzhen is to pose for photos dressed in traditional hanfu clothing
A popular thing to do in Wuzhen is pose for photos dressed in traditional hanfu clothing

With the Chinese economy facing massive challenges, there have been concerns over its growth potential, at least in the immediate future.

Yet a key exception is emerging in the form of domestic tourism.

Last week’s five-day public holiday to mark labour day saw 295 million trips made within China, according to figures from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. This was 28% higher than pre-pandemic figures recorded in 2019.

The Transport Ministry’s figures are also staggering: 92 million rail trips; almost 10 million air trips and 1.25 billion highway journeys.

However, this comes as international arrivals continue to lag, with foreigners currently entering China at barely 30% of 2019 levels. Why the disparity?

The beautiful historical river town of Wuzhen, a short drive from Shanghai, is considered one of China’s top visitor sites for travellers of all types. When we arrive the little pathways and old bridges which cross narrow waterways are filled with visitors.

A popular thing to do in Wuzhen is to pose for photos dressed in traditional hanfu clothing – as if you have really been transported back hundreds of years.

Two women in their 20s, friends since high school, are visiting from Jilin Province in the north east. After arriving, they spend an hour getting their hair done in an elaborate imperial-era style – and they are full of praise for Wuzhen’s classical beauty.

We ask if, following the post-Covid opening up, many of their family and other friends have been travelling much? “Of course, after the pandemic, we’re all visiting other places.”

Nearby a local man who is selling ice-creams also says tourist numbers are “not that bad lately”.

As good as before Covid? “Almost the same,” he replies.

Shopkeeper Wang Ying, who sells traditional snacks, echoes this sentiment with a big smile on her face. “Business is going well, and it’ll only get better.”

BBC/KATHERINA TSE Wuzhen is considered one of China's top visitor sites
Wuzhen is considered one of China’s top visitor sites

All this will be seen as good news for the Chinese government. It’s been saying that a push on domestic consumption can counter the significant faltering portions of the economy.

Major players in the once-mighty property sector are struggling to stay afloat, local government debt continues to rise, and persistent youth unemployment has left highly qualified university graduates uncertain of their future.

Amid all these challenges, the Communist Party has set a target of “around 5%” GDP growth for this year. Apart from the fact that analysts have long questioned the veracity of the country’s official growth figures, economists are also asking how such a target can be reached, in any genuine sense, in 2024 without significant extra stimulus.

One lifeline could be a more buoyant travel scene which could bring broader business opportunities and greater service industry employment.

Schubert Lou, chief operating officer at travel agency Trip.com, told the BBC: “We’ve seen very strong domestic travel demand with search volumes in hotels up 67% compared to last year, and flight volumes up 80%.”

Tourism industry consultant Peng Han from Travel Daily is following the investment trail to see how the business community really views the possibilities in the sector.

“With famous international hotel brands – like Intercontinental, Marriott and Hilton – you just have to look at their growth in China in 2023,” he says. “Then check the performance goals for these large hotel groups in 2024 which have also been set relatively high. This shows that they are very optimistic about the growth potential of the Chinese market.”

But, while the volume of local travellers might be up, Mr Peng does point to the problem of per capita consumption which remains persistently low.

He says general uncertainty about the Chinese economy is putting more emphasis on saving, so people are looking for good value options. They are going on holidays and paying for things but doing so much more frugally.

This is where an increase in big-spending foreigners could help. But they are simply not travelling to China in the numbers they used to.

In 2019, nearly 98 million international visitors came to the country. Last year it was only 35 million – including business trips, students and the like. Mr Lou describes the domestic versus international market as “uneven”.

For many in the tourism industry here specialising in services for foreign travellers, “uneven” would be an understatement. Three years of harsh Covid prevention measures drove down arrivals from other countries, but that alone can’t account for the current situation.

Huang Songshan, the head of the Centre for Tourism Research in the School of Business and Law at Australia’s Edith Cowan University, blames this weakness in part to “the shifting geopolitical landscape globally”.

Getty Images Chinese performer
China’s culture and heritage has traditionally been a big draw for tourists

In the peer-reviewed East Asia Forum, he pointed to a 2023 survey carried out by the Pew Research Centre, writing that, “Most individuals in Western nations hold unfavourable views towards China. The Chinese government’s tightening grip on societal regulations could potentially cause discomfort for foreign travellers in China.”

Official travel advice from some governments echo this sentiment, at times quite harshly.

Washington warns potential travellers to “reconsider travel to Mainland China due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, including in relation to exit bans, and the risk of wrongful detentions”.

Australia advises “a high degree of caution” warning that “Australians may be at risk of arbitrary detention or harsh enforcement of local laws, including broadly defined National Security Laws”.

The political environment has also taken a toll on flight availability and price. This is especially the case with connections to and from North America. Last month’s 332 scheduled round trips between China and the US contrasts with 1,506 in April 2019.

As a result, finding a seat on a direct flight can be extremely difficult and those that are available are very expensive.

President Xi Jinping made a speech at a dinner on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in San Francisco last November addressing this point. “Today, President Biden and I reached important consensus,” he told the crowd.

“Our two countries will roll out more measures to facilitate travels and promote people-to-people exchanges, including increasing direct passenger flights, holding a high-level dialogue on tourism, and streamlining visa application procedures. We hope that our two peoples will make more visits, contacts and exchanges and write new stories of friendship in the new era.”

Washington has since increased the number of Chinese airline flights permitted to land – but only from 35 per week to 50. It is still well short of the 150 weekly trips pre-Covid.

The Biden administration is coming under pressure from unions and US airlines to not increase this any further because, they argue, Chinese airlines have an unfair advantage over them as they have state support; don’t face the same onerous Chinese regulations; and, crucially, can fly over Russian airspace, making trips shorter and cheaper.

A letter to the US government from the Chair of the House Committee on China, Mike Gallagher, and the committee’s top Democrat representative, Raja Krishnamoorthi, reads: “Should the US-China passenger carrier market expand without the US government addressing these significant issues, US aviation workers, travellers and airlines will pay a hefty price tag.”

Mr Lou says the frequency of international flight connections is definitely having an impact.

“What we are seeing right now, based on civil aviation data, is that inbound flight capacity won’t get back to even 80% of 2019 [levels] by the end of 2024.”

Then there are other potential turnoffs for those considering travelling in China, like the country’s state-of-the-art phone app payment and booking systems which work very smoothly for Chinese citizens and residents, but which can be an enormous headache if you have just arrived.

There are certain sites, transport options, and purchases which can only be accessed via Chinese electronic apps which are, at times, only available in Chinese.

Professor Chen Yong at Switzerland’s EHL Hospitality Business School is an authority on the economics of tourism in China. He thinks that hurdles relating to payment and booking apps can pose a real problem.

“Technologies such as social network websites, online maps, payment apps, among others, which foreigners have long been accustomed to using, are either unavailable or inaccessible when they travel to China,” he says.

“On the other hand, there are Chinese alternatives to these technologies that remain inaccessible to foreigners due to language barriers and differences in user habits. We need to bridge this divide because it affects the tourist industry badly.”

Back in Wuzhen, the presence of international travellers is much smaller than in years gone by, but there are still a few foreign faces in the crowd.

An Italian couple says the process of linking up to and using China’s payment apps was a challenge but that it was not insurmountable, though they add, with a laugh, that it is “much, much, much easier” if you have a Chinese friend to help you.

BBC/KATHERINA TSE Woman and child pose for selfies
Chinese officials have acknowledged that the foreign traveller numbers have been low but they are trying to turn this around

Eliseo, from California, says he has had problems making payments to small vendors who don’t accept credit cards and really no longer deal with cash. Another hurdle for him has been his bank at home which has blocked some payments, flagging them as potentially fraudulent coming from China.

Chinese officials have acknowledged that the foreign traveller numbers have been low but they are now trying to turn this around.

One way they’re attempting to attract more foreign visitors is by increasing the number of countries whose citizens don’t need a visa to enter. Trip.com says this resulted in an almost immediate increase in passenger arrivals from Southeast Asia.

In 23 Chinese cities, transit passengers from more than 50 countries are also able to stay for a few days visa free if they have an onward ticket. In Shanghai, hotels above a three-star level have been told that they should prepare to deal with international credit cards and an initial batch of 50 taxis have also started accepting them.

However, Professor Chen says “it would be too optimistic to envision a long-term growth in China’s inbound tourism”.

“The key is to establish a culture that puts service providers in the shoes of foreign tourists. They should imagine themselves being a foreigner who can’t speak or read Chinese and who doesn’t have a Chinese mobile number, payments apps and so on.”

He says that the culture around this can’t be changed overnight.

Yet, in places like Wuzhen – where the local travellers have already returned – the tourism companies are hoping that incredible sites like theirs will eventually be too much for foreigners to resist as well.

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UN rights chief ‘horrified’ by mass grave reports at Gaza hospitals

Reuters Palestinian civil defence workers dig mounds of earth in the grounds of Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip (21 April 2024)ReutersPalestinian workers are exhuming bodies at Nasser hospital with shovels because they have no heavy machinery

The UN’s human rights chief has said he is “horrified” by the destruction of Gaza’s Nasser and al-Shifa hospitals and the reports of “mass graves” being found at the sites after Israeli raids.

Volker Türk called for independent investigations into the deaths.

Palestinian officials said they had exhumed the bodies of almost 300 people at Nasser. It is not clear how they died or when they were buried.

Israel’s military said claims that it buried bodies there were “baseless”.

But it did say that during a two-week operation at the hospital in the city of Khan Younis in February, troops “examined” bodies buried by Palestinians “in places where intelligence indicated the possible presence of hostages”.

Ten hostages who have now been released have said that they were held at Nasser hospital for long periods during their captivity.

Prior to the Israeli operation at Nasser, staff there had said they were being forced to bury bodies in the hospital’s courtyard because nearby fighting prevented access to cemeteries. There were similar reports from al-Shifa before the first Israeli raid on the hospital took place in November.

The Israeli military has said it has raided a number of hospitals in Gaza during the war because Hamas fighters have been operating inside them – a claim Hamas and medical officials have denied.

The war began when Hamas gunmen carried out an unprecedented cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people – mostly civilians – and taking 253 others back to Gaza as hostages.

More than 34,180 people – most of them children and women – have been killed in Gaza since then, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says.

A spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office said it was currently working on corroborating reports from Palestinian officials that 283 bodies had been found in Nasser hospital’s grounds, including 42 which had been identified.

“Victims had reportedly been buried deep in the ground and covered with waste,” Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.

“Among the deceased were allegedly older people, women and wounded, while others… were found with their hands tied and stripped of their clothes.”

Mr Türk called for independent, effective and transparent investigations into the deaths, adding: “Given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators.”

“Hospitals are entitled to very special protection under international humanitarian law. And the intentional killing of civilians, detainees, and others who are hors de combat [not participating in hostilities] is a war crime.”

On Monday, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Civil Defense force told BBC Arabic’s Gaza Today programme that it had received reports from local Palestinians that the bodies of a “large number” of people who had been killed during the war and buried in a makeshift cemetery in the hospital’s courtyard were moved to another location during the Israeli raid.

“After research and investigation, we learned that the occupation [Israeli] army had established a mass grave, pulled out the bodies that were in Nasser hospital, and buried them in this mass grave,” Mahmoud Basal said.

Gaza Today also spoke to a man who said he was searching there for the bodies of two male relatives which he alleged had been taken by Israeli troops during Israel’s recently concluded offensive in Khan Younis.

“After I had buried them in an apartment, the [Israelis] came and moved their bodies,” he said. “Every day we search for their bodies, but we fail to find them.”

Hamas has alleged that the bodies include people “executed in cold blood” by Israeli forces, without providing evidence.

Contains some violence and disturbing scenes.BBC Verify authenticates video from key moments in the story of Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement on Tuesday: “The claim that the IDF buried Palestinian bodies is baseless and unfounded.”

“During the IDF’s operation in the area of Nasser Hospital, in accordance to the effort to locate hostages and missing persons, corpses buried by Palestinians in the area of Nasser hospital were examined.

“The examination was conducted in a careful manner and exclusively in places where intelligence indicated the possible presence of hostages. The examination was carried out respectfully while maintaining the dignity of the deceased. Bodies examined, which did not belong to Israeli hostages, were returned to their place.”

The IDF said that its forces had detained “about 200 terrorists who were in the hospital” during the raid, and that they found ammunition as well as unused medicines intended for Israeli hostages.

It also insisted that the raid was carried out “in a targeted manner and without harming the hospital, the patients and the medical staff”.

However, three medical staff told the BBC last month that they were humiliated, beaten, doused with cold water, and forced to kneel for hours after being detained during the raid.

Medics who remained at Nasser after the Israeli takeover said they were unable to care for patients and that 13 died because of conditions there, including a lack of water, electricity and other supplies.

Reuters Palestinian officials tape off the courtyard of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City as workers search for human remains (8 April 2024)ReutersThe UN Human Rights Office said it had received reports that 30 bodies were buried in the courtyard of al-Shifa hospital

On 1 April, Israeli troops withdrew from al-Shifa hospital, which is in Gaza City, following what the IDF said was another “precise” operation carried out in response to intelligence that Hamas had regrouped there.

The IDF said at the time that 200 “terrorists” were killed in and around the hospital during the two-week raid. More than 500 others were detained, and weapons and intelligence were found “throughout the hospital”, it added.

After a mission gained access to the facility five days later, the World Health Organization (WHO) said al-Shifa was “now an empty shell”, with most of the buildings extensively damaged or destroyed, and the majority of equipment unusable or reduced to ashes.

It also said that “numerous shallow graves” had been dug just outside the emergency department, and the administrative and surgical buildings, and that “many dead bodies were partially buried with their limbs visible”.

The IDF also said it had avoided harm to patients at al-Shifa. But the WHO cited the acting hospital director as saying patients were held in abysmal conditions during the siege, and that at least 20 patients reportedly died due to a lack of access to care and limited movement authorised for medics.

Spokeswoman Ms Shamdasani said reports seen by the UN human rights office suggested that a total of 30 bodies were buried in the two graves and that 12 of them had been identified so far.

Gaza’s civil defence spokesman told CNN on 9 April that 381 bodies had been recovered from the vicinity of al-Shifa, but that the figure did not include people buried in the hospital’s grounds.

The UN human rights chief also deplored as “beyond warfare” a series of Israeli strikes on the southern city of Rafah in the past few days, which he said had killed mostly women and children.

The strikes included one on Saturday night, after which a premature baby was delivered from the womb of her pregnant mother, who was killed along with her husband and other daughter.

Mr Türk also again warned against a full-scale Israeli ground assault on Rafah, where 1.5 million displaced civilians are sheltering, saying it would lead to further breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights law.

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‘He will come back’ – Israeli hostage families cling to hope, and demand a deal

Family handout Hersh Goldberg-Polin stands next to his mum RachelFamily handoutHersh Goldberg-Polin stands next to his mother Rachel. Hersh was last seen in a Hamas video after the 7 October attack

Rachel Goldberg-Polin now lives by a new calendar – not weeks, or months, but days of absence and anguish.

Every morning when she wakes, she writes a number on a piece of tape and sticks it to her clothing. It’s the number of days since her son Hersh was taken hostage – she says stolen – by Hamas.

When we meet in Jerusalem that number is 155.

On the morning of 7 October, she turned on her phone to find two messages from Hersh. The first said: “I love you.” The second sent immediately afterwards read: “I’m sorry.” She called – no answer.

“It rang and rang,” she says.

“I wrote ‘Are you okay? Let me know you are okay.’ None of those (messages) were ever seen. My throat clenched and my stomach curled up. I just knew something horrible was unfolding, and I knew he knew.”

Hersh was caught up in the carnage unleashed by Hamas at the Supernova music festival. He sought refuge in a packed bomb shelter. Hamas militants were just outside, throwing in hand grenades.

The last image of the 23-year-old is in a Hamas video. He is being loaded on to a pickup truck, surrounded by gunmen. His left arm has been blown off.

The Hamas attacks killed around 1,200 Israelis, most of them civilians. Since then, Israel has bombed Gaza relentlessly, killing more than 31,000 people according to officials in the Hamas-run territory. 70% of the dead there are women and children.

Hersh Goldberg-Polin headshot

Hersh was caught up in the carnage unleashed by Hamas at the Supernova festival

While the war rages in Gaza, Rachel’s battle is to bring home her son, and the other hostages.

Hersh is among 130 hostages from the 7 October attacks remaining in Gaza. Israel believes at least 30 of them are already dead.

“Every morning I make a concerted effort and say to myself, ‘now, pretend to be human so that I can get up and try to save Hersh and the other remaining hostages’,” she tells me. “What I want to do is lay in a ball on the floor weeping, but that won’t help them.”

Rachel – a mother of three – is small and slight but she is a powerhouse. We meet at her family’s campaign headquarters – the office of a venture capital company, lent by a friend. Campaigning is now her full-time job. She hasn’t been back to work since the day of the attacks. Neither has her husband Jon.

But five months on, the focus on the hostages is fading – at home and abroad. Relatives are having to fight hard to keep them in the public eye.

Ask about her Hersh, and a smile lights up her face. “That’s my favourite subject – my children,” she says. “Hersh is a happy-go-lucky, laid-back soccer fan. He’s wild about music festivals and he has been obsessed with geography and travel since he’s been a little boy. “

Her son, who is an American-Israeli dual citizen, was due to leave for a round-the-world trip lasting a year or two. His ticket was already bought. The departure date was 27 December.

Hopes were raised of a deal to get the hostages back before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan – in return for a ceasefire of about 40 days and the release of Palestinian prisoners. A bleak Ramadan has come, without a breakthrough. But talks on a possible agreement are due to resume in Doha in the next day or so.

Rachel says she is always worried, scared, and doubtful – “You know the saying, don’t count your chickens before they hatch? I feel like don’t count your hostage until you’re hugging them.”

But hope, she says, “is mandatory”.

“I believe it and I have to believe it, that he will come back to us.”

In the midst of her torment, she is quick to acknowledge the pain of families in Gaza.

She says the agony must end, and not only for Israelis.

“There are thousands and thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza who are suffering,” she says. “There is so much suffering to go around. And I would love for our leaders, all of them, to say, ‘we’re going to do what we have to do so that just the normal people can stop suffering’.”

Short presentational grey line

Experts say it’s not just the hostage families who are trapped in an anguishing wait. It’s also the 105 hostages who were freed in November during a week-long truce, leaving others behind.

“Many of them keep telling us that they can’t even start grieving or healing until their friends or family members will be back,” says Professor Ofrit Shapira-Berman, a veteran psychoanalyst, and specialist in treating complex trauma.

“Many still have a relative in Gaza,” she tells us. “Others have friends they made during captivity. Everyone is waiting. That’s one thing they have in common. Their trauma is being delayed.”

On the morning of 7 October, Professor Shapira-Berman was already mobilising a volunteer network of physicians and mental health experts to provide support for survivors. Since November, they have also been treating returned hostages.

In her book-filled office in a suburb of Tel Aviv she gives us a painstaking account of what the hostages endured. All were psychologically abused, she says, but not all were physically abused.

Professor Ofrit Shapira-Bermann

What emerged is very clear evidence and testimony that some of the women (hostages) are being sexually abused.Professor Ofrit Shapira-Berman
Psychoanalyst and trauma specialist

“Some of them were beaten,” she says, “including the children. They were all given a very little amount of food, almost on the edge of starvation, very little water and sometimes water which was dirty. They were drugged. They were forced to take ketamine (used for anaesthesia). They were touched without consent, the whole variety,” she says, her voice trailing away.

There is particular concern in Israel for the women being held – with reason, she says.

“What emerged is very clear evidence and testimony that some of the women are being sexually abused,” she tells us, “not have been but are still being sexually abused”.

She is measured about what the future may hold for those who have been freed. At least some of them “will be able to love and to trust someone”, she says, but it may take years.

She warns that healing will be more difficult for those who were physically abused or came back to discover loved ones had been slaughtered and their home destroyed.

For those who remain in Gaza, five months on, she tells us, recovery is far less certain, even if they are ultimately freed.

And if they are not released, what does that mean for the hostages who have returned?

“Well, apparently your heart can break into endless pieces,” Prof Shapira-Berman replies. “So even though it’s broken already, it will be broken again. It’s like beyond my imagination that there will be no ceasefire. Even and when the hostages are back, this is our modern Holocaust. “

Short presentational grey line

Family photos of Itai Svirsky show a dark-haired man with smiling eyes and full cheeks.

In one picture, the 38-year-old is strumming a guitar. In another he sits on a bench with his arm around his grandmother, Aviva.

In a propaganda video released by Hamas in January, there is a very different Itai – with sunken cheeks, bleary eyes, and a low voice.

Family handout Itai Svirsky plays guitarFamily handoutThe Israeli military says Itai Svirsky was killed by his Hamas guard. Hamas claims he was killed in an air strike

He won’t be coming home. All his family can hope for is to get his body back from Gaza for burial.

They say Itai was killed by his guard – after an IDF air strike nearby – based on an investigation by the army.

“Itai was executed two days after by the terrorist that guarded him,” says his cousin, Naama Weinberg.

“We know he shot him. What would bring that man to shoot him after 99 days? It’s devastating. The disappointment is unimaginable. “

The army has denied Hamas claims that Svirsky was killed in the air strike, though it admits another hostage held with him probably was.

We first met Naama last November when she was campaigning for Itai’s release, and still had hope. Despite her loss she’s still campaigning – for the other hostages – though she is now wrapped in grief.

BBC/Goktay Koraltan  Naama Weinberg tearsBBC/Goktay KoraltanItai’s cousin, Naama, says she’s disappointed by the response in Israel to the hostage situation

We caught up with her on a recent march by the hostage families from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“I’m angry and I am sad because Itai will not come back anymore,” she says. “They (the government) did not do whatever they can, and they are still not doing whatever they can. Obviously, Hamas is not the best partner to negotiate with, but we want them back, and we want them back alive.”

Naama is pained by what Itai went through in his final months – witnessing the killing of his mother, Orit – a peace activist – on 7 October, and then languishing in captivity. And she’s pained by a sense that Israel is getting used to the hostage crisis.

“I’m very worried about it,” she tells me. “I am worried about the nature of humankind to accept situations. I am disappointed from Israeli society. I am disappointed from the whole world that is sitting quiet and letting this happen.”

Then she leaves us to rejoin the marchers on the road to Jerusalem.

Short presentational grey line

Days later, relatives gather on the roadway at dusk – forming a tight circle of loss – and bringing traffic to a standstill outside Israel’s defence ministry in Tel Aviv.

Most carry posters with photos of sons, or daughters, or parents they have not seen or held since 7 October, when Hamas dragged them into Gaza.

Then comes a sombre count (in Hebrew) “one, two, three” and onwards – a tally of the number of days their loved ones have been gone.

That number is now 163 (as of 17 March).

Each word from the loudhailer resounds like an accusation directed at Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Signs read “Deal refusal = Hostages’ death sentence”.

Among the protesters we meet Amit Shem Tov, who wants his brother Omer back. He was taken from the music festival like Hersh Goldberg-Polin.

BBC/Goktay Koraltan  brother of Omer Shem TovBBC/Goktay KoraltanAmit Shem Tov’s brother, Omer, is among the hostages still believed to be in Gaza

“As beautiful as he is from the outside, he is more beautiful from the inside,” Amit says, smiling at his brother’s bearded face in the poster by his side, “such a personality, too many friends, always making jokes, always laughs, always loves to dance, to live life. That’s him”.

Then the counting comes to an end, the few dozen protesters clear the road, and the traffic moves on – something the families of the hostages cannot do.

“For us, it’s still 7 October,” says Amit. https://caridimanaka.com/

Wagner in Africa: How the Russian mercenary group has rebranded

A private Russian security guard in the CAR - December 2020

Russia is offering governments in Africa a “regime survival package” in exchange for access to strategically important natural resources, a major new report has found.

Internal Russian government documents, seen by the BBC, also detail how it is working to change mining laws in West Africa, with the ambition of dislodging Western companies from an area of strategic importance.

This is part of the process of the Russian government taking over the businesses of the Wagner mercenary group, broken up after a failed coup in June 2023.

The multibillion dollar operations are now mostly being run as the Russian “Expeditionary Corps”, managed by the man accused of being behind the attempt to murder Sergei Skripal using the Novichok nerve agent on the streets of the UK – a charge Russia has denied.

“This is the Russian state coming out of the shadows in its Africa policy,” says Jack Watling, land warfare specialist at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) and one of the report’s authors.

Back in June 2023, Yevgeny Prigozhin was probably the most feared and famous mercenary in the world. His Wagner Group was in control of billions of dollars’ worth of companies and projects, while his fighters were central to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Then, he decided to march on Moscow, ostensibly calling for the removal of the defence minister and head of the general staff, but in reality threatening President Vladimir Putin in a way no-one had before.

Within weeks he had died in a highly suspicious plane crash, along with much of the Wagner leadership. There was widespread speculation at the time about what would happen to the Wagner Group. Now, we have the answer.

According to Dr Watling, “there was a meeting in the Kremlin fairly shortly after Prigozhin’s mutiny, in which it was decided that Wagner’s Africa operations would fall directly under the control of Russian military intelligence, the GRU”.

Control was to be handed to Gen Andrey Averyanov, head of Unit 29155, a secretive operation specialising in targeting killings and destabilising foreign governments.

But it seems Gen Averyanov’s new business was not destabilising governments, but rather securing their future, as long as they paid by signing away their mineral rights.

In early September, accompanied by deputy Defence Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, Gen Averyanov began a tour of former Wagner operations in Africa.

They started in Libya, meeting warlord Gen Khalifa Haftar. Their next stop was Burkina Faso where they were greeted by 35-year-old coup leader Ibrahim Traoré.

After that, they landed in the Central African Republic, possibly the most well-established Wagner operation on the continent, before heading to Mali to meet the leaders of the junta there.

Demonstrators carry banners in Bangui, on March 22, 2023 during a march in support of Russia and China's presence in the Central African Republic.
Image caption,This banner in the Central African Republic reads: Russia is Wagner, we love Russia and we love Wagner

On a subsequent trip they also met General Salifou Modi, one of the military men who seized power in Niger last year.

Readouts of the various meetings demonstrate that the two men were reassuring Wagner’s partners on the continent that the demise of Prigozhin did not mean the end of his business deals.

Reports of the meeting with Capt Traoré of Burkina Faso confirmed cooperation would continue in “the military domain, including the training of Burkinabe officer cadets and officers at all levels, including pilots in Russia”.

In short, the death of Prigozhin did not mean the end for the junta’s relationship with Russia. In some ways, it would become deeper still.

The three West African states with close links to Wagner – Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso – have all experienced military takeovers in recent years. They have since announced their withdrawal from the regional bloc Ecowas, and the creation of their own “Alliance of Sahel States”.

Maybe the most entwined with the mercenaries was Mali, where an ongoing Islamist insurgency, combined with multiple coups, had left an essentially failed state.

Previously, security assistance had come in the form of the UN mission known as Minusma, alongside the French military’s long-running counter-insurgency operation.

But there was no particular fondness for France, the former colonial power, and so when the Wagner group offered to replace their security operations with Russian backing, the offer was accepted.

“The French were tolerated, rather than welcomed,” says Edwige Sorgho-Depagne, an analyst of African politics who works for Amber Advisers.

“The French mandate to help in the terror crisis in the Sahel was always regarded as limited in time. So, the fact that the French stayed for that long – over 10 years – without finding a way to end the crisis didn’t help”.

Flowers commemorating Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin at a monument to Russian mercenaries built in 2021 in CAR
Image caption,These flowers commemorating Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin were laid at a monument to Russian mercenaries in CAR

Beyond pragmatism, there was also nostalgia. “In these countries, Russia is not a new ally. Russia was there before in the 1970s and 1980s.”

“There’s this dream of getting back to a better time, which is often associated with the relationship with Russia.”

But for the military juntas running these countries, Russia’s military presence has obvious benefits.

“Initially, these juntas were transitional leaders. They were supposed to organise elections and bring about a return to democratic institutions.”

“But now Russian paramilitaries are brought in to protect the military junta, allowing them to stay as long as they want.”

The junta ordered the French forces to leave and Mali is now largely dependent on Wagner for its internal security, a change that is having an immediate impact on ordinary Malians.

“What the Russians have provided is a strike force, with helicopters with advanced capabilities and a lot of firepower,” says Dr Watling. “They are using pretty traditional Soviet anti-partisan methods. You see fighters who were executed, as well as civilians targeted for enabling or being associated with fighters.”

There have been multiple claims that Wagner forces carried out human rights abuses on the African continent, as well as in Ukraine and Syria, where Prigozhin’s organisation previously held a commanding presence.

One of the most well-documented incidents took place in the central Malian town of Moura where, according to a UN report, at least 500 people are believed to have been summarily executed by Malian troops and “armed white men”, who eyewitnesses described as speaking an “unknown language”.

While independent verification has not been possible, Human Rights Watch identified the unknown white attackers as Russian mercenaries.

Russian military specialists at the airport in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou
Image caption,A hundred Russian military specialists arrived in Burkina Faso, along with equipment and weapons last month, with more expected soon

In exchange for considerable, if brutal, security assistance, Wagner required something in return.

Mali, like many African nations, is rich in natural resources – from timber and gold to uranium and lithium. Some are simply valuable, while others have strategic importance as well.

According to Dr Watling, Wagner was operating in a well-established tradition: “There is a standard Russian modus operandi, which is that you cover the operational costs with parallel business activity. In Africa, that is primarily through mining concessions.”

In every country in which it operates, Wagner was reported to have secured valuable natural resources using these to not only cover costs, but also extract significant revenue. Russia has extracted $2.5bn (£2bn) worth of gold from Africa in the past two years, which is likely to have helped fund its war in Ukraine, according to the Blood Gold Report.

This month, Russian fighters – formerly Wagner mercenaries – took control of Mali’s Intahaka gold mine, close to the border with Burkina Faso. The artisanal mine, the largest in northern Mali, had been disputed for many years by various armed groups active in the region.

But there is something else, with potential geopolitical significance.

“We are now observing the Russians attempting to strategically displace Western control of access to critical minerals and resources,” says Dr Watling.

In Mali, the mining code was recently re-written to give the junta greater control over natural resources. That process has already seen an Australian lithium mine suspend trading on its shares, citing uncertainty over the implementation of the code.

While lithium and gold mines are clearly important, according to Dr Watling there is possibly an even greater strategic headache around the corner: “In Niger the Russians are endeavouring to gain a similar set of concessions that would strip French access to the uranium mines in the country.”

Gold miners empty containers of earth removed from a mining shaft in Koflatie, Mali, on October 28, 2014, a mine located a few miles from the border with its southwestern neighbour Guinea.
Image caption,Many Malians earn their living by mining gold

The report details internal Russian memos focussed on trying to achieve in Niger what was done in Mali. If Russia managed to gain control of West Africa’s uranium mines, Europe could be left exposed once again to what has often been called Russian “energy blackmail”.

France is more dependent on nuclear power than any other country in the world, with 56 reactors producing almost two-thirds of the country’s energy. About a fifth of its uranium is imported from Niger. There have previously been complaints about the terms of trade, with suggestions that the former colonial power exploits nations like Niger.

“The narrative that Russia is pushing is that Western states remain fundamentally colonial in their attitude,” says Dr Watling. “It’s very ironic because the Russian approach, which is to isolate these regimes, capture their elites and to extract their natural resources, is quite colonial.”

In reality, the “Expeditionary Corps” appears more as “Wagner 2.0”, than a radical departure for Russian foreign policy. Prigozhin had built deep political, economic and military ties on the African continent – dismantling this complex web would have been difficult and ultimately counter-productive.

The “Expeditionary Corps” is operating in the same countries, with the same equipment and – it seems – with the same ultimate goal.

According to Dr Watling, the fundamental change lies in “the overtness with which Russia is pursuing its policy”. Prigozhin’s Wagner Group had always provided Russia with a level of plausible deniability in operations and influence abroad.

Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, many in the Western security apparatus say that Russia’s mask has slipped.

“What they are looking to do is to exacerbate our crises internationally. They are trying to start fires elsewhere, and expand those that already exist, making a less safe world,” Dr Watling.

“Ultimately, it weakens us in the global competition that we are currently facing. So the impact is not immediately felt, but over time, it is a serious threat.”

Suara Prabowo-Gibran capai 57,46 persen berdasarkan hitung cepat KPU 

Suara Prabowo-Gibran capai 57,46 persen berdasarkan hitung cepat KPU 
Sejumlah pendukung Prabowo Gibran mendengarkan pidato dari pasangan calon presiden dan calon wakil presiden nomor urut 2 Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka saat acara pemantauan hasil hitung cepat di Istora Senayan, Jakarta, Rabu (14/2/2024). (ANTARA/Dokumentasi Pribadi)

Jakarta (ANTARA) – Perolehan suara pasangan calon presiden dan wakil presiden nomor urut 2 Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka mencapai 57,46 persen berdasarkan hitung cepat atau quick count oleh Komisi Pemilihan Umum (KPU), Sabtu.

Berdasarkan situs resmi KPU https://pemilu2024.kpu.go.id/pilpres/hitung-suara, seperti dikutip di Jakarta, Sabtu, pukul 10.25 WIB, perolehan suara pasangan calon Prabowo-Gibran mencapai 57,46 persen atau setara dengan 44.501.123 suara.

Di posisi kedua, ada pasangan calon nomor urut 1 Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar dengan perolehan suara 24,66 persen atau setara dengan 19.056.677 suara.

Kemudian, di posisi terakhir, ditempati pasangan calon nomor urut 3 Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud MD dengan persentase suara 17,88 persen atau setara dengan 13.846.580 suara.

Pemilu 2024 meliputi pemilihan presiden dan wakil presiden, anggota DPR RI, anggota DPD RI, anggota DPRD provinsi, serta anggota DPRD kabupaten dan kota dengan daftar pemilih tetap (DPT) tingkat nasional sebanyak 204.807.222 pemilih.

Pemilu 2024 diikuti 18 partai politik nasional, yakni Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB), Partai Gerindra, PDI Perjuangan, Partai Golkar, Partai NasDem, Partai Buruh, dan Partai Gelora Indonesia.

Kemudian, ada Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), Partai Kebangkitan Nusantara (PKN), Partai Hanura, Partai Garuda, Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN), Partai Bulan Bintang (PBB), Partai Demokrat, Partai Solidaritas Indonesia (PSI), Partai Perindo, Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP), dan Partai Ummat.

Pemilu 2024 juga diikuti enam partai politik lokal, yakni Partai Nanggroe Aceh, Partai Generasi Atjeh Beusaboh Tha’at dan Taqwa, Partai Darul Aceh, Partai Aceh, Partai Adil Sejahtera Aceh, dan Partai Soliditas Independen Rakyat Aceh.

Pemungutan suara Pemilu 2024 dilakukan secara serentak untuk memilih calon anggota legislatif serta presiden dan wakil presiden pada tanggal 14 Februari 2024.

Sementara itu, untuk pemilihan presiden dan wakil presiden, Pemilu 2024 diikuti tiga pasangan yakni Anies Baswedan-Muhaimin Iskandar selaku nomor urut 1, Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka nomor urut 2, dan Ganjar Pranowo-Mahfud MD nomor urut 3.

Sesuai Peraturan KPU Nomor 3 Tahun 2022, rekapitulasi suara nasional Pemilu 2024 dijadwalkan berlangsung mulai 15 Februari sampai 20 Maret 2024. https://caridimanaka.com/

YKL Indonesia kembangkan lokasi rehabilitasi mangrove di Makassar

YKL Indonesia kembangkan lokasi rehabilitasi mangrove di Makassar
Tim YLK Indonesia bersama Kehati melaksanakan monitoring terkait perawatan bibit mangrove di Kawasan Wisata Mangrove Lantebung, Kelurahan Bira, Kecamatan Tamalanrea, Kota Makassar, Sulawesi Selatan. ANTARA/HO-Dokumentasi YLK Indonesia

Makassar (ANTARA) – Yayasan Konservasi Laut (YKL) Indonesia didukung Yayasan Keanekaragaman Hayati (KEHATI) bersama masyarakat tengah mengembangkan lokasi pembelajaran rehabilitasi ekosistem mangrove di Kawasan Wisata Mangrove Lantebung, Kelurahan Bira, Kecamatan Tamalanrea, Kota Makassar, Sulawesi Selatan.

“Banyak masyarakat menyampaikan tidak sedikit rehabilitasi mangrove berakhir gagal karena melakukan penanaman jauh ke wilayah laut, tersapu ombak, bahkan tergenang air dan tertimbun sampah. Maka, kami melakukan pemantauan menemukan ketinggian substrat lokasi rehabilitasi tidak sesuai,” ujar Koordinator Program Nuryamin, Sabtu.

Ia mengemukakan, pihaknya ikut mengajarkan tehnik melakukan rehabilitasi karena sebelum dilakukan penanaman, terlebih dahulu mengatasi faktor gangguan pertumbuhan serta mendukung pertumbuhan alami mangrove dengan membuat bangunan rekayasa.

Selanjutnya, masyarakat diajarkan membuat bangunan Alat Pemecah Ombak atau APO dari bambu sekaligus sebagai perangkap sedimen demi mempercepat tinggi substrat sesuai dengan mangrove alami terluar dari lokasi rehabilitasi.

“Harus dibuat guludan sekaligus pelindung tanaman dari bambu dan pemasangan waring sebagai pelindung sampah sekaligus perangkap bibit alami. Setelah itu baru dilakukan rehabilitasi mangrove,” katanya.

Pria yang disapa akrab Yamin itu mengatakan, di lokasi seluas satu hektare itu akan dilakukan  penanaman 10 ribu bibit magrove berbagai jenis.

Metode penanaman yang dilakukan, kata dia, yakni pola tanam murni, rumpun berjarak, pola tanam pengkayaan dan pola tanam acak. Rehabilitasi ini turut mengadaptasi sebagian metode Ecological Mangrove Rehabilitation (EMR) sebagai upaya perbaikan kondisi ekologi dan hidrologi.

Sementara itu, staf lapangan YKL Indonesia Muhammad Subhan menyebutkan setiap bulan bersama dua orang organisasi Komunitas Pemuda Lantebung dilatih melakukan monitoring, evaluasi dan perawatan hasil rehabilitasi.

Ia menjelaskan, sejauh ini sudah tujuh bulan bersama komunitas telah memonitoring dan merawat hasil rehabilitasi mangrove.

“Data hasil monitoring Juli 2023 hingga Januari 2024, secara umum mangrove hasil penanaman tumbuh dengan baik,” katanya.

Ia menjelaskan, persentase tumbuhnya mencapai 93 persen dan ditemukan 374 bibit rekrutmen alami jenis Avicennia SP.  “Sementara tingkat pertumbuhan antara 30 sampai 100 persen dari tinggi awal bibit dengan rata-rata jumlah daun 18,35,” papar Subhan.

Untuk perawatan, menurut Subhan, yang dilakukan adalah pengecekan bangunan rekayasa untuk memastikan masih berfungsi dengan baik, pembersihan sampah serta alga pada waring dan penguatan waring serta dilakukan penyulaman.

“Pembelajaran keberhasilannya adalah penanaman dengan jenis beragam lebih efektif khususnya jika berbicara zonasi,” katanya.

Ia menjelaskan, penanaman sebaiknya dilakukan pada area tidak terlalu jauh dari pohon mangrove yang sudah tumbuh dan memiliki ketinggian substrat yang sama. “Dan tidak disarankan menanam pada September-Januari di pesisir utara kota,” katanya.

Direktur Eksekutif YKL Indonesia Nirwan Dessibali menambahkan, pihaknya sangat terbuka untuk berbagai pembelajaran rehabilitasi mangrove di Lantebung dengan berbagai pihak yang berencana melakukan rehabilitasi di daerah berlumpur.

“Ini adalah situs belajar yang kami kembangkan bersama dengan masyarakat. Harapannya ini bisa menjadi referensi berbagai pihak yang berencana melakukan rehabilitasi mangrove khususnya di Lantebung maupun di daerah sekitarnya termasuk di wilayah yang karakteristiknya sama,” tutur Nirwan. https://caridimanaka.com/