Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen dominate Arab ministers’ meeting

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Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul Gheit gestures as he talks with Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, at a pre Arab Economic and Social Development summit meeting in Beirut, Lebanon January 18, 2019. (Reuters)
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The chair of the Syrian Arab Republic is empty at the opening session of the Arab foreign ministers meeting ahead of a weekend Arab Economic Summit, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. (AP)
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Flags of the Arab league states are seen on display ahead of the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Beirut on January 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019

Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen dominate Arab ministers’ meeting

  • Arab League chief highlights ‘enormous challenges’ facing region
  • Lebanese FM urges Arabs to ‘not abandon’ his country

BEIRUT: The concerns of the people of Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Yemen were the main topic of the opening session of a meeting of Arab ministers held in preparation for the Arab development summit on Sunday in Beirut.
The meeting in the Lebanese capital’s Phoenicia Hotel saw unprecedented security measures covering a large area, including the summit’s venues and the accommodation of guests and journalists. 
Only three presidents have so far confirmed their attendance at the summit — those of Lebanon, Somalia and Mauritania.
However, the Arab League’s Assistant Secretary-General Hossam Zaki called for “separating between the attendance and the summit itself, and the importance of its topics and the resolutions it will produce.”
During a media briefing, Zaki said: “The attendance of Arab leaders will undoubtedly increase the importance of the summit, but their absence, which has spurred media commentary, does not diminish the importance of the topics addressed by the summit — and many summits are not attended by presidents.”
The summit’s media spokesman Rafic Chlala told Arab News: “The presidents who decided not to attend the summit have sent their delegates, which means the summit hasn’t failed, as some are trying to portray it.” 
He said Lebanese President Michel Aoun will propose at the summit “a funding project for the reconstruction of all Arab countries devastated by war.” Chlala added: “We’re waiting for states that requested amendments to the initiative.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Friday conveyed President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s apology for not being able to attend the summit “due to commitments that obliged him to stay in Cairo.”
On whether Egypt will support Aoun’s initiative at the summit, Shoukry said: “Egypt supports all that would achieve the common Arab interest.”
Zaki said: “The Syrian displacement issue is on the agenda but the visions are dissimilar.” At the meeting, Syria’s seat was empty due to its suspension from the Arab League, and Libya’s seat was empty because it is boycotting the summit after supporters of the Lebanese Amal Movement tore down the Libyan flag in Beirut. 
“Syria’s return to the Arab League requires an Arab consensus, as in the case of the suspension of its membership,” said Zaki. 
“Syria’s return to the Arab League is natural and normal, as it has not lost its seat and has not been expelled, but its membership was suspended.” 
Prior to the ministerial session, Lebanese Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury said: “Most of the agenda items have been approved... but there are some matters that are being discussed.” 
He added: “A discussion is being held on the safe and dignified return of Syrian refugees, and the mechanism for financing countries that have suffered from armed conflicts.”
Ahmed Abdul Aziz Kattan, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for African affairs, handed over the chairmanship of the ministerial meeting to Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil.
Bassil invited all delegates to observe a minute’s silence in memory of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and all Lebanese killed while fighting terrorism.
In his opening speech, Bassil called on Arabs “to embrace Lebanon and not abandon it.” He thanked Saudi Arabia for presiding over the previous summit and for its efforts.
Bassil spoke of “big challenges in the Arab world, including wars, hunger and poverty as well as intolerance, extremism, terrorism, and women and child abuse.” 
He asked: “If we have caused wars for each other, is it not time to end them? Shouldn’t we consider construction instead of destruction?”
He said: “Let us put a unified Arab economic vision that is based on a political principal that ensures we do not attack one another or intervene in each other’s affairs.” 
He added: “Syria is the biggest gap today in our conference, and we feel the weight of its absence instead of the lightness of its attendance. Syria must return to us so that we end the loss for ourselves before we end it for Syria.” 
Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said: “The enormous challenges facing the Arab region compel us to develop new visions and come up with innovative ideas for the future.”
He added: “No Arab country can cope with the developments on its own. Economic integration and policy coordination are a necessity, not a luxury.” 
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki stressed the need to end the Israeli occupation, implement UN resolutions and intervene to bring justice to his people.
“Jerusalem is facing the worst Judaization scheme that aims to change its legal, political and religious features,” he said.
“We need our Arab brothers to support the promising economy of Palestine, which has investment opportunities in many areas.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said: “Jerusalem is the key to peace.” He highlighted the need to ensure the continuation of the work of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and to reach a political solution to the Syrian war that is accepted by Syrians, preserves their country’s unity and allows the voluntary return of the displaced.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Al-Hakim urged Arab states to “fulfil their commitments in accordance with the Iraq reconstruction conference,” highlighting the importance of food security as a pillar for stability.
Yemeni Industry and Trade Minister Mohammed Al-Maitami said the “Houthi coup” created a “humanitarian crisis” and a “tragic reality” in his country. “Twenty-two million Yemenis are below the poverty line and need humanitarian aid.”

Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

Updated 24 April 2019

Kosovan women returned from Syria face house arrest

  • Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country
  • The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation

PRISTINA: Kosovo prosecutors have requested the house arrest of 16 women repatriated from Syria, saying they are suspected of joining or taking part as foreign fighters there.

The women appeared on Wednesday in court in Pristina, a day after 10 other women were put under house arrest. None have been charged with a crime.

Four alleged militants, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country.

The women and children were sent to the Foreign Detention Centre in the outskirts of Pristina but were freed to go home after 72 hours.

Ten women were seen entering Pristina Basic Court in a police escort on Tuesday. The court said in a statement later that they had been placed under house arrest on charges of joining foreign armed groups and terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq from 2014 to 2019.

The state prosecution said all 32 repatriated women are under investigation and more of them are expected to appear in front of judges on Wednesday. The prosecution has yet to file charges.

After the collapse of Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq, countries around the world are wrestling with how to handle militants and their families seeking to return to their home countries.

Kosovo's population is nominally 90 percent Muslim, but the country is largely secular in outlook. More than 300 of its citizens travelled to Syria since 2012 and 70 men who fought alongside militant groups were killed.

Police said 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and eight children remain in the conflict zones. The government said it plans to bring back those who are still there.

International and local security agencies have previously warned of the risk posed by returning fighters. In 2015, Kosovo adopted a law making fighting in foreign conflicts punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

On Saturday, 110 Kosovar citizens — the four alleged foreign fighters, 32 women and 74 children — were returned to Kosovo with assistance from the United States, the first such move for a European country.

Authorities say there are still 87 Kosovar citizens in Syria.