Confusion, grief as hunt for remains from Ethiopia crash halted

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopians search for remains at the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash before a commemoration ceremony at the scene of the crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Maggie Fick

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – A child’s foot. Fingers. A passport.

Body parts and personal effects were still strewn across the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 15, a witness told Reuters, five days after the disaster and the day before recovery efforts were halted.

With the site now fenced off, bereaved families are worried the remains of their loved ones may be left at the scene, compounding their anguish.

Citizens of 35 nations were aboard when the Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet nosedived into a field on March 10 six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa, killing all 157 people onboard.

Families of those who perished complain of a lack of information about recovery efforts, which saw Ethiopian workers using metal parts of the aircraft to dig in the soil.

Religions such as Islam and Judaism require quick burials, but authorities said last week that identifying remains – many burned or in small pieces – might take six months.

“At the beginning, (the Ethiopian authorities) should have blocked off that place and sent an organized team to search, instead of just leaving it open. I’m unhappy about that. It’s supposed to be easier if it’s in the government’s hands,” said Milka Yimam, a dual Ethiopia-Israeli citizen whose 26-year-old son Sidrak died.

Relatives of the victims who visited the site on Monday said it had been cordoned off and the ground leveled, apart from the impact crater. The dead included a grand-niece of consumer advocate and former U.S. presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Excavation was halted last Saturday, ministry of transport spokesman Musie Yehyies told Reuters.

“Excavation has ended for the moment since we have got everything we think we need at the moment. The site has been enclosed and can be revisited,” he said on Friday.

Global attention has mostly shifted to an investigation into the cause of the disaster, and similarities with the crash of a Lion Air 737 MAX plane in Indonesia last October that killed 189 people. Pilots of both aircraft reported control problems and crashed minutes after take-off.

The world’s entire 737 MAX fleet was grounded after the Ethiopia crash, with Boeing losing about 12 percent – or $28 billion – of its market value since the disaster.

But as headlines focus on the investigation and its financial fallout, families fear the spotlight has shifted from recovery efforts.

DIPLOMATIC PRESSURE

Israelis whose bodies are not recovered are officially listed at home as “disappeared” rather than “dead” – a status that can cause complications for relatives in matters ranging from inheritance to remarrying.

Some Jewish traditions also require a piece of the body be buried before mourning can begin, with the soul not able to rest until then, giving the families’ quest an agonizing urgency.

So the Israeli embassy has been working hard to retrieve the remains of its two citizens who died in the crash, families told Reuters.

But it hasn’t been easy. After being bounced between various government ministries, the ambassador eventually wrote to the airline to get access to the crash site, a source familiar with matter said. He got no reply – until the Israeli prime minister intervened by phoning his Ethiopian counterpart.

The ambassador and representatives of Israeli volunteer rescue and recovery organization ZAKA were finally able to access the site last Friday. They have not been allowed back.

The embassy said on Thursday ZAKA had been told it could not return to retrieve remains due to a “procedural matter” and that Ethiopia did not want to grant access for other nations.

The Ethiopian ministries of transport and foreign affairs did not respond to a request for comment.

CONFUSION OVER PASSENGERS

An Interpol-led group of nations including Germany and Canada are supporting the DNA testing, three Addis Ababa-based diplomatic sources said. Ethiopia has also contracted British firm Blake Emergency Services to recover and return the remains. The firm did not respond to requests for comment.

Remains recovered so far have been bagged and stored in an out-of-the-way area of Addis Ababa’s Bole airport, in refrigeration units usually used to store roses destined for export, before being moved to the capital’s St. Paul’s Hospital, two sources told Reuters.

Halting excavations could complicate matters for many countries, some of which are still unsure how many of their citizens were lost.

Although 18 of the victims have been identified as Canadian, others had connections to Canada, meaning its embassy has been supporting more families, said Canada’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Antoine Chevrier. Some were also dual nationals.

Ethiopian Airlines has not published the full passenger list with names and dates of birth. It did not respond to questions over when the list might be published.

Until that is done, confusion remains over dual nationals, and the citizenship of seven people onboard the flight is still not public, diplomats told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Jason Neely in Addis Ababa and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Mark Potter)

Palestinians and Israelis remember life under British rule

Illegal Jewish immigrants from Europe are seen on the ship "Exodus" in Haifa port in this March 22, 1947 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Frank Shershel/Handout via REUTERS

By Maayan Lubell and Rinat Harash

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prince William’s tour of Israel and the Palestinian Territories is the first official visit by a member of the royal family, but the Holy Land is familiar ground to the British state.

An older generation of Israelis and Palestinians can still remember British soldiers patrolling the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah during the three decades that Britain controlled the territory.

British troops captured Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire in 1917, and in 1922 the League of Nations awarded Britain an international mandate to administer Palestine during the post-war deal-making that redrew the map of the Middle East.

The award of the mandate also endorsed the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Britain expressed support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.

In 1948, exhausted by World War Two and the strain of holding warring Jewish and Arab forces apart, the British withdrew.

Seventy years later, Israelis and Palestinians who lived through the era remember it very differently.

‘I DO NOT UNDERSTAND IT’

Under the British, the early Zionist movement was able to lay the groundwork for what would become modern Israel. Its parliament, laws and military bear traces of British influence, as do many buildings and street names.

But Israelis also remember how Britain restricted the number of Jews fleeing to Palestine from Nazi-controlled Europe. Tens of thousands who tried to enter illegally by sea were taken to detention camps in Cyprus and Palestine.

Illegal Jewish immigrants from Europe are seen on the ship "Exodus" in Haifa port in this July 18, 1947 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Hans Pinn/Handout via REUTERS

Illegal Jewish immigrants from Europe are seen on the ship “Exodus” in Haifa port in this July 18, 1947 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Hans Pinn/Handout via REUTERS

“We loved the British, but their policy, when it was against us, sparked anger and rage that are understandable,” said Shlomo Hillel, 95, a former Israeli diplomat and minister.

Hillel’s late wife, Suzanna, fled Austria when the Nazis annexed it in 1938. After a year at sea she was taken with her family to a British detention camp in Palestine, where they were held for another year.

“Until this day, I do not understand it,” Hillel said.

WARM BEER

Hillel went on to operate a secret underground munitions factory beneath a kibbutz near Tel Aviv that had been set up as a cover for their clandestine bullet-making operations.

British soldiers would occasionally drop by at the kibbutz for routine visits. He hosted them with beer and sandwiches, but to avoid future surprise visits he served them undrinkably warm beer one summer day, telling them that if they gave him advance notice, “I can prepare the beer and keep it in the fridge.” After that, he always knew when the British were coming.

MIXED FEELINGS

Ram Haviv, 93, a retired Israeli senior civil servant, served in the British Army in Iraq, Egypt and Iran in World War Two.

“The relationship wasn’t too favorable on the part of the British government of that time. But we’d rather now remember the positive aspects for which we are just the same thankful,” he said.

“After the Second World War, the state of Israel was founded on the cornerstones of the British rule in Palestine.”

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, June 21, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

KING DAVID HOTEL

The King David Hotel, where Prince William will stay in Jerusalem, was built in the 1930s by Ezra Mosseri, a wealthy Egyptian Jewish banker.

Used by the British in the mandate era as a headquarters, in July 1946 it was bombed by the Irgun, an underground Jewish paramilitary force, killing more than 90 people.

FILE PHOTO: Rescue workers are seen at the site of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which has served as the British headquarters, and was bombed by Jewish Irgun paramilitary group killing more than 90 people, in this July 22, 1946 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Hugo Mendelson/Handout via REUTERS/File Pho

FILE PHOTO: Rescue workers are seen at the site of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem which has served as the British headquarters, and was bombed by Jewish Irgun paramilitary group killing more than 90 people, in this July 22, 1946 file photo released by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO) and obtained by Reuters on June 18, 2018. GPO/Hugo Mendelson/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Mohammad Jadallah, 97, still remembers that day, when he had just turned up for his job as a waiter. The explosion “cut the room in half,” he recalls. “There was a state of panic. People were running in the dining room and in other places in the hotel.”

Less than two years later, Jadallah was no longer serving the British at tables – he was fighting on the Arab side in the war that broke out as the British era limped to a close.

‘BRITAIN GAVE OUR LAND TO THE JEWS’

Sitting under an apple tree in Dar Jarir village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Abdel-Fattah Shijaiyah mostly remembers the British as an unwelcome military presence who imprisoned his father and issued a death warrant on his brother for their involvement in an Arab uprising in the 1930s.

Shijaiyah, 96, had joined the police under the British “because of the state of poverty: there was no money and my father was in jail”.

His brother was never caught and was later pardoned. Shijaiyah himself later took up arms in the 1940s, as Arab feelings hardened against the British and the growing numbers of Jewish immigrants.

“We are convinced Britain gave our land to the Jews,” he said.

FOR THE TIME BEING

In dusty archives in Gaza, old British land records are still in use. The yellowing pages are stamped with the mandate-era name “Palestine Government”. The listed proprietor for some districts is recorded as “the High Commissioner, for the time being, in trust for the Government of Palestine”.

In Khan Younis refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, Ahmed Jarghoun, 75, displayed a document for a piece of land that, he says, his father bought and registered with the British authorities in 1944. The land lies on the other side of the Gaza-Israel border, in what is now the Israeli city of Lod.

“I want my land back,” he said. “We, as Palestinians, want our country back. Balfour gave what he did not own to those who were undeserving.”

(Reporting by Rinat Harash, Mustafa Abu-Ganeyeh, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ali Sawafta, Ori Lewis and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Andrew Roche)

What’s the issue with metal detectors in Jerusalem?

Palestinians stand in front of Israeli policemen and newly installed metal detectors at an entrance to the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City July 16, 2017.

By Miriam Berger

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – For 10 days, Jerusalem has been in the grip of the worst bloodshed for years over Israel’s decision to install metal detectors at the entrance to the Old City’s holy compound.

Some readers and observers have wondered how a simple matter of metal detectors – so common in so much of the world – could provoke such violence: a Palestinian man stabbed to death three members of an Israeli family in their home and three Palestinians have been shot dead by Israeli forces in clashes.

But as with anything connected to politics and religion in the Holy Land, the dispute is about much more than the security devices themselves, touching on issues of sovereignty, religious freedom, occupation and Palestinian nationalism.

Here are some answers to questions on the issue.

WHY, WHERE AND WHEN WERE THE METAL DETECTORS INSTALLED?

Israel put the devices in place on July 16, two days after two Israeli policemen were shot and killed by Israeli-Arab attackers who had concealed weapons in the compound in the heart of the Old City. It is known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, where the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located, and to Jews as Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, where ancient temples once stood.

The detectors were put up at the entrances Muslims use to enter the compound each day for prayers. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the area as tourists and they enter through a separate gate where metal detectors have long been used.

WHY ARE PALESTINIANS SO ANGRY ABOUT THE MOVE?

The first issue is consultation. The Palestinians say they were not informed by the Israelis about the detectors. Israel says it informed Jordan, the custodian of the holy site. Either way, the measures were imposed rapidly and had an immediate impact on Palestinians, even though Israeli-Arabs carried out the attack that prompted the installation.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City, in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed them, a move not recognized internationally. As a result, it is to this day seen by much of the world as an occupier, and the status of the area is regarded as disputed until resolved via negotiations. Hence the Palestinians reject Israel’s authority, its heavy security presence and the unilateral move on metal detectors.

But the dispute goes deeper. For centuries, a delicate status quo has existed at the Noble Santuary-Temple Mount whereby Jews and Christians can visit, but only Muslims are allowed to pray. When Israel captured the area, it committed itself to that agreement. Yet many Palestinians are upset that more and more religious-nationalist Jews visit the compound each day, with some attempting to pray. They are usually ejected by Israeli police, but Palestinians feel the status quo is changing. The installation of metal detectors has contributed to the impression that Israel is changing the rules, a view rejected by the Israeli government.

WHAT ARE THE POLITICIANS DOING?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure internationally to back down and remove the metal detectors, but he has resisted those calls, saying security is paramount. He is meeting senior cabinet members to examine a way forward, with signs that alternatives, such as face-recognition cameras or selective searches, might be proposed. The problem is any Israeli-led initiative is likely to be rejected by the Palestinians and possibly Jordan. So the United Nations, the United States, Europe and Russia may get involved. U.S. President Donald Trump’s regional go-between, Jason Greenblatt, is scheduled to return to the region on Monday.

On the Palestinian side, tempers are frayed. “Sovereignty over the blessed mosque is for us,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech last week. “We are the ones who should be monitoring and standing at its gates.”

Abbas has broken off security coordination with Israel, a significant move since Palestinian and Israeli forces work together daily on security in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinians have limited self-rule.

WHAT ARE THE PEOPLE SAYING?

Israelis are wondering what all the fuss is about, commenting on Facebook and Twitter about how metal detectors are normal everywhere in the world and pointing out that Jews have to pass through them to get to the Western Wall, the holiest place where they are permitted to pray.

Palestinians see it very differently. The Noble Sanctuary has become a symbol of national aspiration, with the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosque painted on murals all over Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The area, a large stone and marble plaza lined with Cypress trees is one of a few open spaces for Muslims in the Old City, used for celebrations and gatherings.

“Our problem is not just the gates, our problem is the Israeli occupation,” said Walid Alhawany, 48, a shopkeeper in the Old City. “Al Aqsa Mosque is not a place where you put security gates and you feel like it’s an Israeli institution.”

 

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Luke Baker and Louise Ireland)