Egypt yet to receive invite for Astana talks

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2017
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Egypt yet to receive invite for Astana talks

CAIRO: Contrary to reports from Russian news agency TASS, Egypt has not yet received a formal invitation to participate in the Syria peace talks in Astana. TASS claimed on Monday that an invitation has been sent to Egypt, citing “an Egyptian source familiar with the situation.”
But Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmad Abu Zeid told Arab News on Tuesday that no such invitation had been received. “Egypt will consider participating in the Astana talks whenever it receives an invitation,” Abu Zeid said. Egypt has repeatedly affirmed that it supports a political solution for the Syrian crisis on the condition that the solution maintains the integrity and unity of the Syrian state.
TASS said Egypt has been invited “to take part as an observer in the Astana talks,” adding that Egypt would probably join the negotiations. But Nourhan El-Sheikh, professor of international relations at Cairo University and a specialist in Russian affairs, told Arab News it is “illogical to assume that an invitation was sent to Egypt” since preparations for the coming round of Astana talks have not been completed.
“If an invitation is meant to be sent to Egypt, that will probably happen by the end of this week,” he said. He added that if Egypt did end up taking an active role in the supervision of the Syrian peace process, the country’s efforts would likely be focused on central areas of the country, including Homs and southern Damascus, rather than northern or southern areas of Syria.
The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said on Tuesday that he would meet the Russian foreign and defense ministers, Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Schweigo, in Moscow on Wednesday.
“The meetings will deal with the resumption of the political process in Geneva according to UN Security Council Resolution 2254,” De Mistura explained.
Egypt has recently increased its role in the peace process, most recently sponsoring a cease-fire deal reached on Oct. 12 with a Syrian rebel enclave south of Damascus.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Ansari said after the sixth round of talks in Astana in mid-September that the truce’s guarantors — Russia, Iran and Turkey — were considering sending invitations to new observers for the next round of talks. Russian presidential envoy for the Syrian settlement, Alexander Lavrentyev, said that China, Egypt, the UAE, Iraq and Lebanon would be observers.
Moscow has spearheaded the talks in Astana since the start of the year as it attempts to turn its game-changing military intervention on the ground into a negotiated settlement.
The often-tense Astana negotiations — seen as a complement to broader UN-backed talks in Geneva — have involved armed rebels and government officials and have focused mainly on military issues.


Gaza: Palestinian territory ravaged by war and poverty

Updated 25 sec ago
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Gaza: Palestinian territory ravaged by war and poverty

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: The Gaza Strip, run by Islamist movement Hamas, is a poverty-stricken and overcrowded Palestinian coastal enclave under a crippling blockade by Israel, with which it has fought several wars.
After Israel tightened the blockade on Tuesday by suspending fuel deliveries amid fears of a new all-out conflict, here is some background.
On the Mediterranean coast, Gaza is one of the most densely populated territories on the planet with around two million Palestinians squeezed into 362 square kilometers (140 square miles).
After the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949, Gaza came under the administration of neighboring Egypt.
It was seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967.
In 2005 Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers, ending 38 years of occupation.
But it imposed a blockade in 2006, restricting the cross-border movement of people and goods following the capture of a soldier by Hamas militants on Israeli territory.
The blockade was tightened a year later after the Islamists ousted troops loyal to the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
The only entrance to Gaza not controlled by Israel is at Rafah on the Egyptian border. This too has been almost completely closed since jihadists launched an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula after the military overthrew Egypt’s elected Islamist president Muhammad Mursi in 2013.
In May 2018 Israel began working on a “new and impenetrable” coastal barrier just north of Gaza to prevent the possibility of Palestinians entering by sea.
The Gaza Strip has almost no industry and suffers from a chronic lack of water and fuel. Its GDP losses caused by the blockade are estimated at more than 50 percent, the World Bank says.
Unemployment stands at 45 percent and more than two-thirds of the population depends on aid.
A reconciliation deal in 2017 between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority raised hopes of an improvement in the harsh conditions in the enclave, but talks have stalled.
In January 2018 UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “full collapse.”
Donors in March greenlighted a project to build a desalination plant in Gaza, where more than 95 percent of water is unfit for drinking due to overpumping of groundwater.
Israel has carried out several military operations against Palestinian militants in Gaza, with thousands killed.
“Operation Hot Winter” in February-March 2008, in response to the killing of an Israeli by a rocket fired from Gaza, left more than 120 Palestinians dead in just days.
It led to weeks of unrest, with rocket fire from Gaza and attacks from Israel, in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed until a truce in June.
A vast air offensive, “Operation Cast Lead,” was launched in December 2008 to stop Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. It ended with a cease-fire in January 2009 and 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
In November 2012 “Operation Pillar of Defense” kicked off with a missile strike that killed top Hamas commander Ahmed Jaabari. In the ensuing eight-day flare-up, 177 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.
In July 2014 Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” to stop the rocket fire and destroy tunnels used for smuggling and the movement of militants.
It lead to a war that left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side and 74 on the Israeli side.