Israel approves 31 settler homes in flashpoint Hebron: minister

The Hebron units are to be built on Shuhada Street, once a bustling shopping street leading to a holy site where the biblical Abraham is believed to have been buried. (AFP)
Updated 15 October 2018
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Israel approves 31 settler homes in flashpoint Hebron: minister

  • The project will comprise 31 settler homes and two kindergartens
  • Hebron is holy to both Muslims and Jews, with Old Testament figures including Abraham believed to be buried there

AMMAN: An Israeli plan to construct 31 settler homes in Hebron has triggered angry reactions from Palestinian officials and rights activists calling on the Palestinian Authority to challenge the move in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Hebron is home to around 200,000 Palestinians, with about 800 settlers living under Israeli army protection in several heavily fortified compounds in the heart of the city.

Bassam Shweiki, a senior PLO official in Hebron, said the city’s Palestinian population has been fighting legal battles in Israeli courts without progress. “They have now set aside $6 million to build 31 settlement units in an area (old bus station) that has been the center of unresolved legal fighting for decades.”

Shweiki who heads the PLO’s Refugee Rights Committee said the Israeli army took over the old bus station in the 1980s for “security reasons.” It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, he said.

Construction permits were agreed in October last year but needed the government’s approval, according to the Peace Now NGO which monitors settlement construction in occupied territory.
“For the first time in more than 20 years, Hebron will have a new Jewish neighborhood where a military camp once stood,” Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said after the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Hussein Sheikh, a lawyer from Hebron, said the issue of settlements has intensified manifold since the Oslo Accords.

“After Oslo Accords, Israel stopped worrying about local resistance and worldwide accountability and the Palestinian Authority has failed to check Israel’s hegemonic designs,” the lawyer lamented.

Hebron is a flashpoint reflecting the deep tensions that run between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Hebron units are to be built on Shuhada Street, once a bustling shopping street leading to a holy site where the Prophet Ibrahim is believed to have been buried.
The street is now largely closed off to Palestinians who have repeatedly demanded that it be reopened to traffic.
Brian Reeves, a spokesman for the Israeli Peace Now movement, said the Israeli government is again stoking conflict by approving construction of settlement units in Hebron. “It is well known that Hebron is one of the centers of the conflict, yet Netanyahu’s coalition chooses to appease a fringe radical settler minority on the taxpayers’ dime rather than act earnestly to disentangle Israel from the West Bank and to strive to end the conflict.”

He believes there is some connection between this decision and the possibility of calling early elections.

Reeves in an email said Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party has reportedly criticized Lieberman’s party for appearing weak on Gaza and on the settlements issue.

He said this appears to be an attempt to compete for right-wing voters.

“Likewise, 14 ministries headed by a handful of parties within the governing coalition have contributed to the $6 million slush fund to restructure the military base to make way for the settlement housing project,” Reeves said.


Divided Arab economic summit: We must help suffering refugees

Updated 21 January 2019
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Divided Arab economic summit: We must help suffering refugees

  • Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil called for 'effective solutions' for the return of Syrian refugees to their country
  • Summit also called for dialogue over growing tensions between Israel and Palestine

BEIRUT: The fourth Arab Economic and Social Development Summit was held in Beirut on Sunday, in an effort to, among other things, find ways to alleviate the suffering of refugees in the Middle East.

The summit, though attended by representatives from 20 Arab nations, was soured by the absence of most Arab heads of state, and was divided over several issues, including the absence of Syrian delegates, and a boycott by Libya.

The summit did, though, call for dialogue with the international community over growing tensions between Israel and Palestine.

Delegates expressed their support for the Palestinian people, and cited the “collective responsibility” of all parties towards maintaining the city of Jerusalem’s “Islamic and Christian identity.”

In a statement, the summit declared: “We reiterate Palestinian refugees’ rights of return and compensation, according to the UN General Assembly’s resolution 194 of 1948.”

Delegates also discussed at great length the need for international cooperation to support the growing digital economy across the region. They emphasized “the importance of building the necessary capacity” to benefit from the digital economy, and praised the initiative launched by the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, to create a sovereign investment fund to support the development of technology in the Gulf and the Middle East.

They urged all Arab nations to “support this initiative to strengthen the joint Arab economy,” and called on other Arab banks and funds to invest in it.

The summit also praised the role of small and medium businesses across the Arab world for their contribution to flourishing Arab economies, as well as the implementation of the Pan-Arab Renewable Energy Strategy 2030, to ensure power across the region becomes cleaner and more sustainable.

The summit was far from harmonious, though, with the Lebanese foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, addressing the hall to ask the international community “to assume its responsibilities by finding effective solutions for the return of Syrian refugees to their country.”

Bassil called on Arab nations and others to “shoulder the burden, honor their commitments and meet the refugees’ needs.”

There were also disputes over the attendance of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, as well as the boycott by Libyan delegates.

“I am saddened because of the absence of the Libyan delegation, and by the circumstances that led to this point,” Arab League president, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said.

Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, echoed the words of his foreign minister, calling on the international community “to exert all efforts to provide the safe return of Syrian refugees to their country, and to present incentives so they can contribute to their country’s reconstruction.”

He proposed the establishment of an international Arab bank to help affected countries overcome the crisis, and invited established Arab funds to Beirut to discuss his proposals.

“I deplore the absence of other Arab presidents and kings, but each of them has his reason. Our union remains of great importance given that we will not be able to address the challenges facing our region and peoples, unless we agree on key issues,” Aoun said.

The next Arab Economic and Social Development Summit will be held in Mauritania in 2023.