British milestones in Holy Land set traditional foundation for royal visit of Prince William

Prince William will become on Monday the first British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, 70 years after British forces withdrew from the Holy Land. ( REUTERS/Chris Jackson/Pool)
Updated 21 June 2018
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British milestones in Holy Land set traditional foundation for royal visit of Prince William

  • Prince William will become on Monday the first British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories
  • Visit comes 70 years after British forces withdrew from the Holy Land leaving behind the divisions that remain to this day

JERUSALEM: Prince William will become on Monday the first British royal to pay an official visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, 70 years after British forces withdrew from the Holy Land leaving behind the divisions that remain to this day.
Queen Elizabeth’s grandson, 36, and second-in-line to the throne, will travel without his wife Kate or their three children for the three-day visit. He will stay in Jerusalem at the King David hotel, once the headquarters of British authorities, where Jewish militants killed more than 90 people in a bombing in 1946.
Britain captured Palestine from the crumbling Ottoman Empire during World War One in 1917, and later governed it under an international mandate.
William’s visit coincides with the 70th anniversary both of Britain’s exit and of Israel’s independence, which Palestinians mourn as their dispossession.

THE BALFOUR DECLARATION
In November 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to Baron Rothschild, a prominent leader of Britain’s Jewish community, expressing British support for “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. What became known as the Balfour Declaration also talked of protecting the “civil and religious rights” of non-Jewish communities.
The Balfour Declaration is a milestone for Israelis: the official residence of the prime minister in Jerusalem is on Balfour Street, and the British Library said on Wednesday it is in discussions to lend the document to the Israel Museum.
By contrast, Palestinians accuse the British of signing away land that wasn’t theirs to give, and of colonial double-dealing to seize the Ottoman Empire’s Middle East territories.

THE BRITISH MANDATE OF PALESTINE
In 1922 the League of Nations awarded Britain the Palestine Mandate, endorsing the Balfour Declaration. The next quarter century was marred by fighting in Palestine between Arabs and Jews. Both communities also clashed with British troops.
For survivors of the genocide of six million European Jews in the Holocaust, the creation of a state of their own in the Holy Land took on new urgency after World War Two.
The final years of British rule were marked by intensifying clashes between Jewish and Arab forces. When militants from the underground Jewish Irgun group bombed the King David Hotel in July 1946, the dead included both Arab and Jewish staff as well as 28 British citizens. In 1947, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a plan to partition Palestine into an Arab state and a Jewish state. Arab representatives rejected the plan.
Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948, the day before the end of British rule. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or were driven from their homes, and millions of their descendants remain stateless refugees to this day.

ANCIENT TIES
According to some traditions, England’s patron saint, St. George, is buried in Lydda, now the Israeli town of Lod, near Tel Aviv. Prince William is expected to visit St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, among other religious sites.
In the 12th century, King Richard I of England, known as Richard the Lionheart, led the Third Crusade to the Holy Land, where he fought the Muslim leader Saladin. A peace treaty left Jerusalem under Muslim control, but allowed Christians to enter.
In the Victorian era, the Holy Land drew British scholars, archaeologists, explorers, cartographers, tourists and missionaries. Its importance to Britain became much more pronounced with the opening of the Suez Canal in the late 19th century, and the discovery of oil in Iraq, piped from Mosul to the Mediterranean via Haifa.

WHY IS PRINCE WILLIAM MAKING THE TRIP?
William’s visit is at the behest of the British government. Until now it had been British policy not to make an official royal trip until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. William’s tour comes at a time of diplomatic upheaval in the region, after US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US Embassy there. The prince’s communications secretary, Jason Knauf, said the visit would be non-political, allowing “a spotlight to be brought to bear on the people of the region: their cultures, their young people, their aspirations, and their experiences.”

WHAT WILL THE TRIP INCLUDE?
William will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He will also visit religious sites, Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust dead, and the tomb of his great-grandmother Princess Alice, who hid a Jewish family in her residence in Greece during World War Two and is buried in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Other members of the royal family have made unofficial visits. Prince Charles, William’s father, attended the funerals of Israeli statesmen Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In 1994 Prince Philip, William’s grandfather, attended a ceremony at Yad Vashem honoring his mother, Princess Alice.


From Syria, Daesh slips into Iraq to fight another day

Updated 22 min 33 sec ago
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From Syria, Daesh slips into Iraq to fight another day

  • Hundreds Daesh fighters have crossed the open, desert border in the past six months, defying a massive operation by US, Kurdish, and allied forces
  • “IS is trying to assert itself in Iraq, because of the pressure it is under in Syria,” said the Iraqi army spokesman

BAGHDAD: Daesh fighters facing defeat in Syria are slipping across the border into Iraq, where they are destabilizing the country’s fragile security, US and Iraqi officials say.
Hundreds — likely more than 1,000 — Daesh fighters have crossed the open, desert border in the past six months, defying a massive operation by US, Kurdish, and allied forces to stamp out the remnants of the militant group in eastern Syria, according to three Iraqi intelligence officials and a US military official.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on intelligence matters. But indications of the extremist group’s widening reach in Iraq are clear.
Cells operating in four northern provinces are carrying out kidnappings, assassinations, and roadside ambushes aimed at intimidating locals and restoring the extortion rackets that financed the group’s rise to power six years ago.
“IS is trying to assert itself in Iraq, because of the pressure it is under in Syria,” said Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul, the Iraqi army spokesman.
The militants can count between 5,000 and 7,000 among their ranks in Iraq, where they are hiding out in the rugged terrain of remote areas, according to one intelligence official.
In Syria, Kurdish-led forces backed by the US-led coalition have cornered the militants in a pocket less than one square kilometer in Baghouz, a Euphrates River village near the 600-kilometer (370-mile) border.
The Iraqi army has deployed more than 20,000 troops to guard the frontier, but militants are slipping across, mostly to the north of the conflict zone, in tunnels or under the cover of night. Others are entering Iraq disguised as cattle herders.
They are bringing with them currency and light weapons, according to intelligence reports, and digging up money and arms from caches they stashed away when they controlled a vast swath of northern Iraq.
“If we deployed the greatest militaries in the world, they would not be able to control this territory,” Rasoul said. “Our operations require intelligence gathering and airstrikes.”
At its height in 2014 and 2015, the Daesh group ruled over a self-proclaimed “caliphate” that spanned one-third of Iraqi and Syrian territory. The extremist offshoot of Al-Qaeda in Iraq threatened to exterminate religious minorities.
Iraqi forces, with US, Iranian, and other international help, were able to turn the war around and Baghdad declared victory over the group in December 2017, after the last urban battle had been won.
But precursors to Daesh have recovered from major setbacks in the past, and many fear the militants could stage a comeback. The group is already waging a low-level insurgency in rural areas.
The Associated Press verified nine Daesh attacks in Iraq in January alone, based on information gathered from intelligence officials, provincial leaders, and social media. Daesh often boasts of its activities through group messaging apps such as Telegram.
In one instance, a band of militants broke into the home of a man they accused of being an informant for the army, in the village of Tal Al-Asfour in the northern Badush region. They shot him and his two brothers against the wall, and posted photos of the killing on social media.
Sheikh Mohamed Nouri, a local tribal leader, said it was meant to intimidate locals in order to keep them from sharing intelligence with security officials.
“I have members of our tribal militia receiving threatening messages warning them to abandon their work,” said Nouri.
In other instances, Daesh cells have killed mukhtars — village leaders and municipal officials. They have attacked rural checkpoints with car bombs and mortar fire, and burned down militia members’ homes. In the Shurgat area in central Iraq, militants stopped a police vehicle last month and killed all four officers inside.
Other activities have aimed at restoring the group’s financial footing.
On Sunday, militants kidnapped a group of 12 truffle hunters in the western Anbar province, marking a return to a strategy of intimidating and extorting farmers and traders for financial gain.
Naim Kaoud, the head of provincial security, urged locals to suspend truffle gathering, which has just one season a year and is an important source of income for rural families.
Other truffle hunters have disappeared in the countryside, according to former lawmaker and Anbar tribal figure Jaber Al-Jaberi. He said the militants are taking cuts from truffle hunters in exchange for access to the land, and kidnapping or killing those who refuse to cooperate.
“This is one of the sources of their funding,” said Al-Jaberi.
Al-Jaberi cautioned against exaggerating the Daesh threat, saying the militants have been less successful at infiltrating communities than they were earlier this decade.
“These are different times,” he said.
Others are not so sure. Hans-Jakob Schindler, a former adviser to the UN Security Council on Daesh and other extremist groups, said the same grievances that gave rise to Daesh in 2013 remain today, including a large Sunni minority that feels politically and economically marginalized by the Shiite-led central government.
“I’m very worried that we are just repeating history,” said Schindler, who is now at the Counter Extremism Project.
He said he has seen Daesh “revert to the old type” of “classical terror attacks” and kidnapping for ransom, tactics that were once widely employed by Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The militants staged a dramatic resurgence after 2011, when US forces withdrew from Iraq and civil war broke out in neighboring Syria. Today some 5,200 American forces are based in Iraq, after they were invited back to help stem the IS rampage in 2014.
After President Donald Trump promised in December to pull American forces out of Syria, Iraqi lawmakers began clamoring for the US to leave, arguing that the mission against Daesh was approaching its end.
But with no letdown to Daesh militancy, those calls have petered out.