Opinion in Gaza divided over protest deaths

The mother of a Leila Al-Ghandour, center, an 8-month-old baby Palestinian who died of tear gas inhalation during clashes in East Gaza on Monday, holds her at the morgue of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 18 May 2018
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Opinion in Gaza divided over protest deaths

  • More than 100 Gazans have been killed since the protests began in March.
  • Since 2007, Israel has subjected Gaza to a land, sea and air blockade that has crippled its infrastructure. The blockade, which is backed by Egypt, was imposed as a response to Hamas’ takeover of the strip that  year.

GAZA CITY: Seven weeks after Palestinians in Gaza began their mass protest against the Israeli occupation, opinion in the strip is divided over whether the deaths of demonstrators was a sacrifice worth making.

Residents in the besieged coastal enclave started their “Great March of Return” on March 30, gathering at the border for a prolonged campaign designed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Jewish state’s creation.

More than 100 Gazans have died during the protests, sparking widespread condemnation from Arab governments and the UN. The worst of the bloodshed came on Monday, when Israeli snipers opened fire on huge crowds of men, women and children, killing 60 people.

Many here regard the protests as a source of national pride and view the victims as martyrs who died for the cause of Palestinian statehood. Others look upon the dead as pawns in a political game being played by both Israel and the dominant political faction in the strip, Hamas.

Ghada Al-Serhi, a 39-year-old mother of two, told Arab News that she had taken part in the weekly demonstrations with her husband and brothers.

“Any people under occupation must suffer until liberation is achieved,” she said. “Yes, there are many victims but should we continue to live under oppression, in a situation that does not meet the minimum standards for a meaningful life? Israel is the occupier. We must face them.”

Monday’s bloodshed came as the US relocated its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in a ceremony attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Israel claimed the killings were carried out in self-defense, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that unarmed civilians had been massacred.

Rami Al-Sharif, a 21-year-old sociology student, told Arab News that he had been peacefully participating in the demonstrations since they began six weeks ago.

“I believe Palestinian rights are worth a lot. What is the value of my studies if I do not find work after graduation? What is the value of my life if it is not a decent life?” he said.

Since 2007, Israel has subjected Gaza to a land, sea and air blockade that has crippled its infrastructure. The blockade, which is backed by Egypt, was imposed as a response to Hamas’ takeover of the strip that  year.

The main political factions in Gaza, including Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, have thrown their support behind the recent protests, and Hamas said that 50 of the 60 people killed on Monday were its members. However, the fatalities also included civilians such as Laila Al-Ghandour — an eight-month-old girl who died from tear gas inhalation.

In the far west of Gaza city this week, the chaos of the eastern border was nowhere to be seen. 

Instead, a group of young men sat together drinking coffee and smoking shisha near the sea as the sound of ambulances ferrying the injured to hospitals echoed in the distance.

Among the group was 25-five-year-old Mohammed Al-Riyashi, who told Arab News that he did not support the protests because they are “an easy way for Israel to kill young people.” Like many young men here, Riyashi cannot find regular work despite having a university degree.

“We do not need more wounded and disabled people. We need someone who will save us from the tragic situation in which we live — from the difficult conditions in which we live — not someone who will make life even more difficult and cruel.”

His friend, Samer Shamlakh, agreed and accused Hamas of “exploiting the protests” to distract people from its own failings.

“I went to the border for a few hours out of curiosity once. I did not and will not return. These demonstrations are aimed at favoring one political party and we are looking for Palestinian unity,” he said.


Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

Updated 26 September 2018
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Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

  • The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region
  • A close ally of KDP leader Massoud Barzani has been backed as a presidential nomination

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Kurdish political forces have failed to agree on a candidate for the post of president, highlighting the depth of the rift  between them and redrawing their map of influence in Baghdad, negotiators told Arab News.

Electing the president is the second step in the process of forming a government. According to the political power sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political parties since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the post is allocated to the Kurds.

By the end of Monday, the last day for nominations, more than 30 candidates, including a woman, had declared their nominations for the post but the absence of consensus between the Kurdish parties on a single candidate, meant the vote was delayed until Thursday.

The president in the Iraqi constitution does not have wide executive powers, but could play a pivotal role in resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, and between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish powers in Baghdad. 

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish parties in Iraq control more than 50 seats in parliament. The two parties have shared the federal posts allocated to the Kurds for the last 15 years. Voting for the PUK’s presidential candidate had become a tradition, but the insistence of the KDP to compete for the post this time has confused Iraq’s parties and forced them to renegotiate.

“It is time to get this position back to the larger Kurdish bloc,” Irdlan Noor Al-Deen, a KDP leader and MP said. “We are insisting to compete for the post ... and we will not discuss the option of stepping down.”

The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region and deepen the disagreement between the two Kurdish parties that arose in October last year when Kurdish forces associated with the PUK refused to fight Iraqi security forces after they launched a campaign to regain central government control over the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil. The offensive was in response to the independence  referendum held a month earlier.

The two parties are squaring up in elections scheduled for next week for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Azad Warti, a PUK leader, said that if the political “fire” from the KDP continued after the elections “we will review our relationship with them.”

“There are a lot of joints areas between us ... and continuing with this approach means that we may not continue with them in the same front,” he said.

Last week, the PUK’s leadership nominated the Kurdish veteran politician Barham Salih, while the KDP nominated Fuad Hussein, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Presidency Office and personal secretary of Massoud Barzani, the most prominent Kurdish leader and former president of the Kurdish region.

It is not clear why Barzani, who headed the KDP, suddenly insisted on the presidential candidacy. Some observers see this step as an attempt to seek revenge against the Kurdish and Shiite forces that rejected the independence referendum and supported Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi when he imposed a series of financial and administrative sanctions on Kurdistan.

“Barzani is looking to get revenge from the leaders of the PUK because he believes that they let him down in his battle with Baghdad when he held the referendum,” Abdulwahid Tuama, a political analyst told Arab News.

“Also, getting the post for the KDP candidate will reinforce the divisions between the PUK and its Kurdish allies in Baghdad, and this will provide the KDP with a great opportunity to be the touchstone in the ongoing negotiations to form a government in Baghdad.”

The major Shiite blocs, which initially declared their support for Barham Salih, have now said they do not mind if the KDP takes over the president, but stipulated the replacement of the party's official candidate.

“Fouad Hussein was rejected by all Shiite political forces. We told Barzani that we have no objection to voting for his candidate, but he has to nominate someone else,” A key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“Hussein is the private secretary of Barzani and if he is elected as president of Iraq, it means that the president will be Barzani’s secretary.

“This is an insult to the country and to all, and we will never accept it.”

Iran and the United States have been the most prominent international players in Iraq since 2003. Both are deeply involved in the ongoing negotiations between Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, has played a key role in naming Barham Salih as a candidate for the PUK, while Gen. Qassim Sulaimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, flew to Erbil on Sunday evening to meet Barzani and “persuade him to abandon his stubbornness and accept a compromise that excludes both candidates (Salih and Hussein),” two Shiite negotiators told Arab News. 

“Sulaimani went last night to Erbil to smooth the tension and try to find a solution that would be accepted by all the related parties,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“He will suggest to provide a new candidate who should be accepted by all Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

The negotiator said parliament may vote to reelect Fuad Massum, the outgoing Iraqi president, as he is accepted by all.