Abbas in Cairo, Istanbul to rally region over holy city

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit (2L) meets with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (3L) in the presence of Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki (4R) and other Palestinian officials in Cairo on December 11, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 11 December 2017
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Abbas in Cairo, Istanbul to rally region over holy city

CAIRO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday intensified efforts to rally Middle Eastern countries against US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, setting up talks with Arab leaders beginning in Cairo.
Abbas will meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt, which has been a key broker in past peace talks with Israel and between fighting Palestinian factions, before heading for Istanbul to give a speech, his office said.
El-Sisi, after a separate meeting with visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the US moving its Israel Embassy to Jerusalem would have “dangerous effects on peace and security in the region.”
Abbas met the head of the Arab League in Cairo on Monday, local media reported. Arab foreign ministers held an hours-long emergency meeting at the weekend and vowed to seek a UN Security Council resolution rejecting the US move, but gave few details on other measures they would take.
The Palestinians hope for concrete action.
“Daring Palestinian and Arab decisions are required in the coming stage, which is very important,” Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Palestinian official news agency WAFA.
Abbas will not meet Mike Pence during the US Vice President’s visit to the region later this month, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said on Saturday.
Egypt’s top Muslim and Christian religious leaders also said they would not meet Pence.
Abbas is expected to make a statement after his meeting with El-Sisi, the Palestinian Embassy in Cairo said, without giving details.
Egypt, along with Jordan a key US ally in the region which has helped broker past peace deals and has good relations with Israel, has said the Jerusalem move undermines efforts to end the conflict.


It has also brokered reconciliation deals between Abbas’s Fatah party and Gaza-based militant group Hamas, which called for a new uprising against Israel last week.
The planned handover of control of Gaza to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority under the latest deal hit another delay on Sunday, with a Fatah official blaming “obstacles” without elaborating.
Israel launched fresh airstrikes in Gaza on Saturday in response to rocket fire from the enclave, where it fought a war in 2014 which killed more than 2,000 people, most of them civilians.


In Iraq’s Anbar, election offers chance to settle scores

Updated 26 April 2018
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In Iraq’s Anbar, election offers chance to settle scores

  • In January 2014, Daesh militants captured the city of Fallujah just west of the capital, and after a year of heavy fighting they took the city of Ramadi too
  • Three years of brutal militant rule may have helped ease sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites

RAMADI, Iraq: In the vast desert province of Anbar where Daesh group militants first emerged in Iraq, parliamentary elections next month are an opportunity for the predominantly Sunni residents to settle scores.
Many of the new candidates are eager to push out lawmakers they believe minimized the danger of — or even sympathized with — the Sunni extremists that stormed across the country in the summer of 2014.
“The political class that existed before IS is no longer suitable. They have lost their credibility with the residents of Anbar,” said Rafea Al-Fahdawi, who heads the candidate list in the province for the Victory Alliance led by Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi.
“They were involved in bringing terrorism and made people believe that terrorists were just rebels belonging to our tribes. The people of Iraq will punish them at the ballot box,” said Fahdawi, leader of the Tribes Against Terrorism coalition that battled militants in the western province.
In the lush garden surrounding his home in the city of Ramadi, tents were set up to host crowds that came to listen to Abadi, part of the premier’s campaign tour in the area.
“We fought against terrorism, and today, thanks to our campaign, we want to continue the fight against sectarianism. We have great hope for change,” said Fahdawi, 62, dressed in a traditional white robe.
In late 2013, Sunni tribes in Anbar rose up against the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
In January 2014, Daesh militants captured the city of Fallujah just west of the capital, and after a year of heavy fighting they took the city of Ramadi too.
It was not until 2016 that the Iraqi army and the paramilitary forces of the Hashed Al-Shaabi managed to retake the two cities, recovering full control of Anbar province in late 2017.
The people of Anbar are eager for change, their feelings fueled by burning disappointment with the political class.
In the largely agricultural province, where tribes carry considerable weight, 352 candidates are competing on 18 lists for 15 seats.
A quarter of the contenders are running for office for the first time, according to the electoral commission, who say the province’s electoral lists include women and young people.
“The Iraqi people, in general, want to see radical and complete change. We will not accept the same faces under different (party) names and slogans,” said Sheikh Mohammed Al-Nimrawi, a leader of the Khalidiya tribes in Ramadi.
In a sign of the times, election fever has taken over the province.
It is a stark difference from previous polls and campaigns, which were bleak and almost secretive affairs as militants increased attacks on polling stations.
Despite Daesh threats against this year’s elections, campaign posters are everywhere in Anbar — hanging on the city’s destroyed homes and on the walls of newly rented candidate offices.
Even more surprising is the presence of a list from the Conquest Alliance led by Hadi Al-Ameri, the most well-known leader of the largely Shiite Hashed Al-Shaabi.
Ameri fought for Tehran in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war and has been accused of forming death squads in Iraq at the height of sectarian tensions nearly 10 years ago.
“The time for change has come. Anbar will witness social and political revolution and choose men who can steer the ship to safety,” said Khalaf Al-Jeblawi, a candidate on the Conquest Alliance list.
“The province has emerged from a fierce war and the Hashed fighters played a big role in the battle,” he said.
The Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force was formed in 2014 at the urging of Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani to counter the Daesh blitz.
But three years of brutal militant rule may have helped ease sectarian tensions between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shiites.
“While sectarian identities do retain a (somewhat diminished) political relevance, when it comes to violence, today ‘sectarianism’ is yesterday’s conflict,” said Fanar Haddad, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.
“I think that, for now, sectarian division is no longer the defining feature of Iraqi political mobilization.”