Palestinian refugees reject US Mideast policy as Beirut skips meeting

A Palestinian holds up a Palestine flag as he chants slogans during a demonstration organized by the Islamic militant group Hamas against a U.S.-sponsored Middle East economic workshop in Bahrain. (AP)
Updated 26 June 2019
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Palestinian refugees reject US Mideast policy as Beirut skips meeting

  • The Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, said that ‘Palestine is not a commodity that is sold and bought’

BEIRUT: Palestinian refugees in Lebanese camps took to the streets on Tuesday to reject the so-called US “deal of the century,” burning US and Israeli flags and demanding the right to return, following the Bahrain workshop on the Palestinian issue.

Lebanon did not officially participate in the workshop despite hosting almost 200,000 Palestinian refugees, and Lebanese political and religious figures stressed their “rejection” of the policy of resettlement.

The chairman of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, Dr. Hassan Mneimneh, told Arab News: “The US administration’s insistence on its respect for the Lebanese constitution, which rejects the resettlement of the Palestinians, has changed now in the light of statements made by Jared Kushner, senior advisor to US President Donald Trump, asserting that the Palestinians should stay in the host countries or seek a third country. This is a resettlement project.

“If this continues and the Americans succeed in imposing what they plan as a fait accompli, things will become worrying. We have seen what happened over sanctions on Iran — countries that refused to impose them were subjected to economic pressure.

“Lebanon cannot resettle the Palestinians on its land. This is a firm, official and popular position.”

BACKGROUND

The Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, said that ‘Palestine is not a commodity that is sold and bought.’

Mneimneh said Lebanon would struggle to help Palestinians if more pressure was applied to the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East (UNRWA). The Trump administration suspended its share of the agency’s annual funding, now around $370 million, last year, and there are suggestions the US could veto UNRWA’s mandate, which will be resubmitted to the UN General Assembly in September. “This is a very dangerous sign, especially for Lebanon. The Lebanese authorities should look into all future possibilities in case things get worse,” Mneimneh added.

Protesters in the Ain Al-Hilweh camp, the largest in Lebanon, burned flags and tires in front of the Palestinian Joint Force headquarters to express their anger.

“The Palestinian issue is not for sale, and we will resist any attempt to liquidate it. We stand behind the Palestinian leadership headed by President Mahmoud Abbas,” said Maher Shabayta, secretary of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Fatah Movement in Sidon.

“We will resist any capitulation suggested by the US administration,” said Abu Hussein Hamdan, a political relations official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

In Tyre, UNRWA schools were closed and Palestinian flags and banners condemning the “deal of the century” and the Bahrain workshop were raised.

Abdulmajid Awad, a Hamas official in Tyre, said: “The meeting in Manama is aimed at eliminating the Palestinian national cause and we are still committed to the right of return. Resistance must continue in all its forms.”

The Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, said: “Palestine is not a commodity that is sold and bought. It is an issue that will be solved by the return of Palestinian people to land occupied by a brutal enemy. We say to whoever tries to lure our Arab countries with billions of dollars: Arab land, especially the land of blessed Palestine, is priceless and we will not accept resettlement.

“No one should dream that the Palestinians in the diaspora will be resettled — they will return to the Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”

The Beirut Bar Association (BBA) witnessed a rally of dozens of lawyers after they walked out of court hearings to protest. “The Manama workshop aims to eliminate the Palestinian issue, and the right of return of the refugees to their country,” said Jamil Qambris, secretary of the BBA.

The Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee is a Lebanese governmental advisory body, dealing with the governance of Palestinian refugees.

A census conducted by the Lebanese and Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2017 showed that over 78,000 Palestinian refugees based in the country live in camps.


Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 10 min 7 sec ago
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Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.