Palestinians warn of ‘catastrophe’ over major new Israeli settlement

Israeli border policemen detain a foreign activist during a protest on Friday in the West Bank village of Bil’in, west of Ramallah. (AP)
Updated 04 March 2018
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Palestinians warn of ‘catastrophe’ over major new Israeli settlement

AMMAN: Palestinians fear that plans for a major new Jewish settlement will place further strain on a West Bank city already surrounded by Israel’s controversial separation wall.
Last month Israeli television revealed that three existing settlements near Qalqilya will be unified later this year. A fourth settlement is due to be added within five years, bringing together about 20,000 settlers on land that is illegally occupied under international law.
The project throws into doubt long-awaited Palestinian plans to improve and expand Qalqilya’s infrastructure, leaving residents of the most overcrowded city in the West Bank facing an uncertain future.
In response, Qalqilya Gov. Rafi Rawajba described continued Israeli settlement as “state terror.”
He called on the international community to protect the city.
“This right-wing (Israeli) government is taking away Palestinian land and using it exclusively for expanding the Jewish settlement enterprise,” he said.
Surrounded on three sides by the Israeli separation wall, Qalqilya covers an area of just over 1.5 square miles, yet is home to an estimated 53,000 residents, making it the occupied West Bank’s most densely populated city.
Palestinian officials had hoped to expand and improve the city by building 14,000 housing units, an industrial park and several playgrounds. The ambitious infrastructure project was approved by the Israeli Cabinet in 2016 following a recommendation from Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
But concerted pressure by the powerful settler movement has since caused the Israeli government to backtrack. On July 13, 2017, the Israeli cabinet decided to freeze Qalqilya’s expansion, ignoring Palestinian concerns that any pause in the development project would be a “catastrophe” and opening the way for last month’s decision to unify the settlements.
According to Israel’s Hebrew-language Channel 7, the Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has approved a plan to unite the settlements of Sheari Tikva, Etz Efraim and Elkana to the southwest of Qalqilya. A fourth settlement, Oranit, will be added in 2023, formally creating a new Israeli city in the occupied West Bank.
However, a spokesman for the Israeli movement Peace Now downplayed the impact of the settlement expansion. Brian Reeves told Arab News the expansion would reinforce the existing situation in and around Qalqilya, but not make it significantly worse.
“This decision is primarily administrative and will not give those supporting the settlement enterprise a significant advantage to confiscate land that they did not already have,” he said.


Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed praises Jacinda Ardern and lights up Burj Khalifa to honor New Zealand

Updated 22 March 2019
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Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed praises Jacinda Ardern and lights up Burj Khalifa to honor New Zealand

DUBAI: Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai, thanked Jacinda Ardern on Friday for her ‘sincere empathy’ following the attack on two New Zealand mosques that killed 50 Muslims.

The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, was illuminated in a gesture of solidarity with New Zealand and its prime minister.

Ardern has received widespread praise from around the world and in particular from Muslim countries and their leaders for the way she has handled the aftermath of the terrorist attack carried out by a white supremacist.

“New Zealand today fell silent in honor of the mosque attacks' martyrs,” Sheikh Mohammed tweeted. “Thank you PM Jacinda Ardern and New Zealand for your sincere empathy and support that has won the respect of 1.5 billion Muslims after the terrorist attack that shook the Muslim community around the world.”

Ardern led thousands of people in a two minute vigil on Friday as the shocked nation came together to remember those killed in the attack. 

She told those gathered in a park opposite the Al Noor mosque, where 42 people died, that: "New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”

The prime minister’s response to the killings has been widely admired in helping the country come to terms with the atrocity. In the hours after the shootings she wore a black headscarf and visited members of the Muslim community.

She moved to reassure those caught up in the attacks and hugged survivors at a community center in Christchurch.

“We represent diversity, kindness, compassion,” Ms Ardern said on the day of the attack. “A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”

She did not hesitate to describe the killings as a terrorist attack and said she would refuse to say the name of the killer who carried it out.

But she has also acted quickly with legislation. Her government banned on Thursday the sales of semi-automatic weapons.

“Ardern’s performance has been extraordinary - and I believe she will be strongly lauded for it both domestically and internationally,” political commentator Bryce Edwards of Victoria University in Wellington told Reuters.

Social media has been flooded with messages of admiration for Ardern, with many using her as an example for their own politicians to follow.