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EarthLink – News

Gazan’s death abroad shines light on middle-class exodus
By FARES AKRAM and MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH | Sun, September 8, 2019 08:51 EDT
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — With a family of five, a two-story home and a pharmacy, Tamer al-Sultan had a life many in the besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip would envy, but he still felt trapped.
Fed up with the heavy-handed rule of Hamas, al-Sultan braved a treacherous journey in hopes of starting a new life in the West — only to die along the way. His death has drawn attention to the growing exodus of middle-class Gazans who can no longer bear to live in the isolated coastal territory.
It has also struck a nerve among many Palestinians because he appears to have fled persecution by Hamas, rather than the territory’s dire economic conditions following a 12-year blockade by Israel and Egypt, imposed when the Islamic militant group seized power.
Al-Sultan had vented about Hamas’ rule on social media and joined rare protests against a Hamas tax hike in March that were quickly and violently suppressed. Amin Abed, a friend who was arrested with al-Sultan on three occasions over the protests, said they were doused with cold water and beaten with plastic whips.
So al-Sultan left, following in the footsteps of thousands of other educated, middle-class Palestinians. The exodus has gathered pace in recent years, raising fears that Gaza could lose its doctors, lawyers, teachers and thinkers, putting the Palestinians’ dream of establishing a prosperous independent state in even greater peril.
He had planned to go to Belgium, where he had relatives, and bring his family after gaining refugee status. But his journey ended in Bosnia, where he died last month at the age of 38.
The exact cause of his death is not known. A purported hospital report from Bosnia circulated online says he had blood cancer, but the document has not been authenticated, and his family says he was in good health prior to the journey.
“He left Gaza because of the oppression,” his brother, Ramadan al-Sultan, said at the family’s home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya. Mourners at the funeral last month marched with the yellow flags of the rival Fatah movement and chanted “Out, Out!” when Hamas supporters showed up.
Palestinians have long seen their steadfastness in remaining on the land as their best hope for one day gaining independence from Israeli military rule, and both the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and its rival Hamas are opposed to emigration. Hamas cleric Salem Salama recently issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against emigration, saying “those who leave our homeland with the intention of not coming back deserve the wrath of God.”
There is no official count of the number of Palestinians who have emigrated from Gaza. Israel does not control Rafah, the main exit point, and Hamas and Egypt do not track such figures.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says 104,600 Palestinians left Gaza in 2018 and 2019 and 75,783 returned. But it’s not clear whether all of the roughly 30,000 net departures are emigrants. Many Gazans leave for extended periods to study or work abroad, with the intention of returning.
“It’s certain that thousands have taken advantage of the opportunity to exit Gaza in the hopes of finding a better future, away from the poverty and feeling of hopelessness at home,” says Gisha, an Israeli rights group that advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement.
There is no official resettlement program, so many Palestinians resort to informal routes. Al-Sultan took one of the more popular ones.
He left through the Rafah crossing, which Egypt has kept open on a regular basis since May 2018 after years of largely restricting travel to humanitarian cases. From there, al-Sultan went to Turkey, which welcomes Palestinian visitors. Then he took a rickety boat to Greece and worked his way up through the Balkans.
The International Organization for Migration says 1,177 Palestinians have crossed from Turkey to Greece by sea since the start of the year, the fourth most crossings by nationality. Over the past year, at least six Gazans have died on that route, including al-Sultan, according to local media reports.
While al-Sultan left to escape Hamas, many others have fled poverty and isolation. The blockade, along with Palestinian infighting , has devastated the local economy. More than half of Gaza’s labor force is unemployed and some 80 percent rely on food assistance. Daily power cuts last for several hours, and the tap water is undrinkable.
Mohammed Nassir graduated with a degree in information technology three years ago and opened a computer shop in his hometown of Beit Hanoun, but soon went out of business. He found a part-time job at an advertising company, but the firm shut down two months later.
Last week he waited outside the Rafah crossing, hoping his name would be called so he could board one of the three buses Egypt allows in every day.
“There is nothing left for us here,” he said. “No work, no present, no future, and above all, no hope.”
His uncle lives in Germany and is working on getting him a visa to travel there. Until then, he intends to sojourn in Egypt.
“If things don’t work out, I don’t know what I will do. But any place would be better than Gaza,” he said.
At the other end of the long and uncertain journey is Karim Nashwan, a prominent lawyer who left Gaza with his family in 2016 after his children graduated from university and now lives outside Brussels. He says he wishes he had left even earlier.
“My children decided to leave, and I agreed with them. They have no jobs, no safety, no future and no life in Gaza,” he said in a phone interview.
His wife and five children risked everything to travel the Turkey-Greece route before eventually flying onward to Belgium. He was able to join them later by traveling to Belgium legally under a family reunification program.
“The children learned the language and are integrating in the society,” he said. “We lost hope in Gaza.”

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Georgia: Search on for 4 missing after cargo ship overturned
Sun, September 8, 2019 08:00 EDT
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — Rescuers scoured the Georgia coast on Sunday for four missing crew members of a cargo ship that overturned and caught fire, but the efforts ran into trouble amid the flames and instability of the ship, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
The Golden Ray cargo ship’s problems began early Sunday morning when it listed heavily and rolled on its side in St. Simons Sound near the Port of Brunswick with 23 crew members and one pilot on board.
Coast Guard Capt. John Reed said 20 were safely evacuated from the ship before rescuers determined the situation, as smoke and flames appeared, was too risky to go further inside the vessel. The vessel was just offshore in view of beachgoers on the shoreline.
Reed said rescue teams Sunday were trying to stabilize the 656-foot vehicle carrier to continue their search for the missing crew, but they have been unable to determine if the fire has been extinguished. The Coast Guard tweeted later Sunday afternoon that one of its groups, called the Atlantic Strike Team, was preparing to depart to the site to assess what it called a complex situation.
“Once salvage professionals have determined the vessel to be stable, we will identify the best option to continue our rescue efforts for the four crew remembers who remain on board,” Reed said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.
Search and rescue operations involve federal, state and local agencies. Coast Guard Lt. Lloyd Heflin said rescuers remained on the scene.
“They continue to do what they can. It is a complex situation. We’re looking not just for the safety to be able to rescue the people that are on board, but also to be able to provide safety for our crew. It’s ongoing,” he said.
The Coast Guard said it was notified by a 911 call at about 2 a.m. Sunday of a capsized vessel in the sound.
The cause of the incident remains under investigation. Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Dickinson said it isn’t clear if weather conditions caused the ship to lurch. Hurricane Dorian brushed past the Georgia coast last week before being downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone.
The Coast Guard said the overturned ship hasn’t released any pollutants so far, but mitigation responses are ready in case they’re needed.
The Golden Ray, which the Coast Guard said was transporting cars, is flagged out of the Marshall Islands and was headed to Baltimore, according to the website vesselfinder.com. The ship’s registered owner is a South Korean company.
The Port of Brunswick is currently closed to vessel traffic, with an established emergency safety zone in St. Simons Sound. Vessels are not authorized within a half mile of the Golden Ray.
The port is one of the busiest U.S. seaports for shipping automobiles. Nearly 614,000 vehicles and heavy machinery units moved across its docks in the 2019 fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.

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Noises heard as Coast Guard searches for 4 inside cargo ship
Mon, September 9, 2019 09:32 EDT
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. (AP) — A rescue team has heard noises from inside a cargo ship where four crew members are missing after their huge vessel overturned and caught fire, but the flames and smoke have so far prevented the rescuers from safely penetrating the unstable vessel, the U.S. Coast Guard said Monday.
“They heard noises, but we can’t confirm that it’s signs of life,” Petty Officer 3rd class Ryan Dickinson told The Associated Press on Monday morning. “We can’t confirm that without going in and looking, but they did hear sounds.”
A Coast Guard helicopter was able to land on the side of the ship Monday as part of the rescue effort.
The Golden Ray listed heavily and then rolled over on its side early Sunday in St. Simons Sound as it left the Port of Brunswick with a pilot and 23 crew members, bound for Baltimore with a load of cars.
Coast Guard Capt. John Reed said 20 were safely evacuated from the ship before rescuers determined the smoke and flames and unstable cargo made it too risky to venture further inside. The 656-foot (200-meter) vehicle carrier is now stuck in the shipping channel, its hull exposed and its deck empty, in view of beachgoers on the shoreline.
Dickinson sought Monday to clarify comments Coast Guard Station Brunwick Commander Justin Irwin made to The Brunswick News on Sunday. Irwin said they heard tapping from locations coming from inside the vessel, and that Coast Guard members were tapping back on the Golden Ray’s hull to let them know they are not forgotten.
“We don’t know if it is all four of them, but there has to be something in there tapping back at us,” Irwin said then. “We are going to go at it tomorrow and try to find them.”
Dickinson said the Brunswick commander “has a positive mindset, which is something we all have.”
Rescued crew members have been helping the Coast Guard focus the search for their four missing mates, he added.
“It is our understanding that they are inside the vessel. We’ve had crews talking with the crew of the Golden Ray, trying to hone on in the best place to search,” Dickinson said.
Reed told a news conference Sunday afternoon that the Coast Guard was trying to determine if it’s safe to get inside.
“Once salvage professionals have determined the vessel to be stable, we will identify the best option to continue our rescue efforts for the four crew members who remain on board,” Reed said.
The Coast Guard said it was notified of the capsized vessel by a 911 call at about 2 a.m. Sunday.
The cause remains under investigation. Dickinson said it isn’t clear if weather conditions caused the ship to lurch. Hurricane Dorian was already well beyond the Georgia coast, where it blew past last week before being downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone.
The Coast Guard said the overturned ship hasn’t released any pollutants so far, but mitigation responses are ready in case they’re needed.
The Golden Ray is flagged out of the Marshall Islands and was headed to Baltimore, according to the website vesselfinder.com. The ship’s registered owner is Hyundai Glovis, a South Korean company.
The Port of Brunswick, one of the busiest U.S. seaports for shipping automobiles, is currently closed to vessel traffic, with an established emergency safety zone in St. Simons Sound. Vessels are not authorized within a half mile of the Golden Ray. Nearly 614,000 vehicles and heavy machinery units moved across its docks in the 2019 fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the Georgia Ports Authority.

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A Purdue bankruptcy would make opioids cases even messier
By GEOFF MULVIHILL | Sun, September 8, 2019 08:55 EDT
State and local governments have sought billions of dollars from Purdue Pharma as a way to hold the company and the family that owns it accountable for the nation’s opioid epidemic, a potential payout that is now clouded in uncertainty after state attorneys general said settlement talks had broken down, while the company says talks are not over.
The attorneys general directly involved in the negotiations with the maker of OxyContin and the Sackler family said they anticipated Purdue filing soon for bankruptcy protection.
Sunday evening, the company released a statement saying that “negotiations continue and we remain dedicated to a resolution that genuinely advances the public interest.”
The company said it is prepared to defend itself in litigation, but that “Purdue Pharma believes a settlement that benefits the American public now is a far better path than years of wasteful litigation and appeals.”
A company spokeswoman declined to answer further questions about with whom negotiations are taking place.
A bankruptcy filing, if it happens, could change the landscape instantly for a complicated series of lawsuits.
“It seems that there will be little money for plaintiffs, if Purdue takes bankruptcy and the Sacklers are not kicking in any money for settlement,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
Nearly every state and about 2,000 local governments have sued companies in the drug industry over the toll of opioids, which have been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. over the last two decades. The suits cast Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue as a particular villain, saying the company’s marketing of its drugs downplayed addiction risks and led to more widespread opioid prescribing, even though only a sliver of the opioid painkillers sold in the U.S. were its products.
On Saturday, two state attorneys general leading settlement negotiations with the company — Tennessee Republican Herbert Slatery and North Carolina Democrat Josh Stein — sent an email to their colleagues saying talks were at an impasse and that they “expect Purdue to file for bankruptcy protection imminently.”
A representative for the family declined to comment on the email, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Purdue has said for months that it wants to reach a deal that would settle all state and local government claims against it, but it also has threatened to file for bankruptcy protection. Bankruptcy would mark a major shift in the multidistrict litigation being overseen by a federal judge in Cleveland. It would likely take Purdue out of the first federal trial over the opioid crisis, scheduled to start Oct. 21.
Paul Hanly, a lead lawyer for the group of local governments, unions, hospitals and others suing the drug industry in federal court, said in a statement that any breakdown in talks didn’t represent his group of clients.
Those plainitffs, he said, “will continue to explore resolution of our clients’ claims against Purdue and the Sacklers, whether with or without the states and within or without bankruptcy court.”
A bankruptcy judge would have a lot of say over how to divide Purdue’s assets.
The value of the private company, already relatively low, could continue dropping, leaving little to split among thousands of plaintiffs. The company also could go out of business. That’s a big change from settlement proposals that would have kept the company operating in some form. Under one proposal, governments could have seen $10 billion to $12 billion over time, including at least $3 billion from the Sacklers as part of a deal that would have Purdue into a “structured bankruptcy.”
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has been part of the negotiations, said the attorneys general did not believe the deal would have been worth that much.
According to the email sent Saturday, the company rejected proposals from the states that could have been worth less money but came with greater assurances that the Sacklers would deliver $4.5 billion.
If the company files for bankruptcy, the Sacklers could still be exposed to lawsuits. At least 17 states have sued one or more family member, and Shapiro said he intends to join them.
But that could be a legally tenuous option for two reasons.
“One big problem is it may be very difficult for states to convince judges to rule that family members are personally liable,” Tobias said. “And even if that happens, plaintiffs may have problems levying on the Sacklers’ assets, if they are offshore.”
Forbes magazine estimated in 2016 that the Sacklers had assets of more than $13 billion. New York’s attorney general has issued subpoenas for financial records of Sackler-connected entities in an effort to find how the family moved money overseas. The Associated Press found last month that a system of trusts and companies makes it difficult to trace the family’s money.
“This will be a challenging road forward,” Shapiro said in an interview.
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Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill

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Sweden rejects TRUMP vanity license plate request
09:45 EDT
COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Swedish authorities say that a man has been denied a vanity plate with the letters TRUMP because it violated motor vehicle department rules, calling the letter combination “offensive.”
The Aftonbladet tabloid, one of Sweden’s largest newspapers, reported Saturday that the man said he “was drunk and thought it was fun to apply” online for a new license plate with U.S. President Donald Trump’s last name “because the car is American.”
The Swedish Transport Agency confirmed its ruling to The Associated Press on Monday, saying it doesn’t approve letter combinations referring to politics. It informed Marcus Saaf, who made the request, that its ruling couldn’t be appealed.

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