‘There is no blockade... Qatar is free to go,’ says Saudi FM

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Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. (AFP)
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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir (left) delivers brief remarks to the media on Tuesday, shortly before their private meeting at the US Department of State in Washington, DC. (AFP / PAUL J. RICHARDS)
Updated 14 June 2017
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‘There is no blockade... Qatar is free to go,’ says Saudi FM

WASHINGTON: The US administration intensified its mediation efforts in the spat between Doha and its neighbors on Tuesday, as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said in Washington that there “is no blockade” on Qatar.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted Al-Jubeir, while US Defense Secretary James Mattis will reportedly be meeting his Qatari counterpart Khalid Al-Attiyah on Wednesday.
Tillerson and Al-Jubeir met for over an hour at the State Department, and the standoff with Qatar took priority in the talks. Ahead of the meeting, Saudi Arabia’s first diplomat laid out his country’s approach to the escalation.
“There is no blockade of Qatar. Qatar is free to go. The ports are open, the airports are open,” Al-Jubeir said while standing next to Tillerson in the Benjamin Franklin room.
Al-Jubeir struck a defiant approach in explaining Saudi Arabia’s moves. “What we have done is we have denied them use of our airspace, and this is our sovereign right,” he said. “The limitation on the use of Saudi airspace is only limited to Qatar Airways or Qatari-owned aircraft, not anybody else.”
He added: “The seaports of Qatar are open. There is no blockade on them. Qatar can move goods in and out whenever they want. They just cannot use our territorial waters.”
Al-Jubeir also highlighted Riyadh’s latest measures to ease the restrictions to allow joint Saudi-Qatari families to be reunited, adding that Saudi Arabia would send humanitarian relief if needed.
Parallel to Al-Jubeir’s visit, Al-Attiyah arrived in Washington on Monday and is slated to meet Mattis on Wednesday. The US administration has been keen to prevent the diplomatic crisis having repercussions on the fight against Daesh and US defense operations in Doha.
Putin calls King Salman
King Salman received Tuesday a call from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
They reviewed bilateral relations and opportunities for their development in all fields. They also discussed the latest developments in the region and joint cooperation to combat extremism and terrorism, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
 


Holy Land churches cry foul over Israeli legislation on lands

Updated 48 min 3 sec ago
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Holy Land churches cry foul over Israeli legislation on lands

  • In their letter to Netanyahu, the Christian leaders slammed the “scandalous bill,” accusing its backers of an “unprecedented attack against the Christians of the Land.”
  • Large swathes of Jerusalem are owned by various churches, which in many cases reached long-term leasing agreements with the state.

JERUSALEM: Three major Holy Land churches implored Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to prevent the advancement of a draft bill they said was aimed at expropriating their lands.
Heads of the Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches in Jerusalem also accused the Israeli authorities of failing to keep a committment made just a few months ago that brought an end to a major crisis between the sides.
In February, the Jerusalem municipality began enforcing tax collection on church property, while separately lawmakers in the parliament worked on advancing a law that would allow expropriation of church property.
The church leaders in protest closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site in Jerusalem where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried, following which Israeli authorities froze both the tax measures and the legislation, committing to a dialogue with the Christians over the issues.
Rachel Azaria, a lawmaker with the centrist coalition party Kulanu, recently renewed work on a slightly revised bill that does not mention churches but would let the state expropriate the rights over lands sold by such bodies in Jerusalem, while offering compensation.
In their Monday letter to Netanyahu, the Christian leaders slammed the “scandalous bill,” accusing its backers of an “unprecedented attack against the Christians of the Land.”
“Certain elements in the government of Israel are still attempting to promote divisive, racist and subversive agendas, thereby undermining the Status Quo and targeting the Christian community on the basis of extraneous and populist considerations,” they said.
The church leaders also said that despite the Israeli committment to communicate on these issues via a specially appointed committee headed by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, “no dialogue whatsoever has taken place with us” since the end of February.
“We view such conduct, from those who promote the bill, as a flagrant violation and undermining of Your Excellency’s commitment and of the basic and fundamental freedom of worship,” the church leaders said.
They urged Netanyahu to swiftly “block the bill whose unilateral promotion will compel the Churches to reciprocate.”
Large swathes of Jerusalem are owned by various churches, which in many cases reached long-term leasing agreements with the state.
Residents living in homes on such lands fear the churches could sell the lands to private developers, who would be free to do as they wish with their property, including raising rents or razing existing structures.
Azaria said her bill did not single out churches, and was aimed at solving the problem of “thousands of Jerusalem residents who could lose their homes due to the demands of developers.”
There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu’s office while Hanegbi refused to comment.
A spokeswoman for Azaria told AFP the bill was coordinated with Netanyahu and Hanegbi.