Palestinians reject US charge of increased prisoner stipends

Palestinian protesters throw stones at Israeli security forces during clashes following a weekly demonstration against the expropriation of Palestinian land by Israel in West Bank. (AFP)
Updated 11 July 2019
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Palestinians reject US charge of increased prisoner stipends

  • US officials have criticised the PA's prisoner stipends as fanning Palestinian violence

JERUSALEM: The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority (PA) denied on Thursday US allegations it had increased payments to families of militants in Israeli jails, and said the main obstacle to peace was Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
US officials have criticised the PA's prisoner stipends as fanning Palestinian violence, and US President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt said the PA had increased those payments by some 11 percent in the first months of 2019.
"PA increased pay to murderers by over 11% at the same time as they slash pay to their government workers and police," Greenblatt tweeted on Wednesday. "More harm to Palestinians & to peace!"
The Palestinian Finance Ministry rejected the accusation as "absolutely false and hypocritical" and said Washington was lending financial support to Israel's occupation of the West Bank.
"It is known to everyone that Israel's illegal colonial settlements, funded by American taxpayer money, continue to be the obstacle to peace," a ministry spokesman told Reuters.
PA fiscal records reviewed by Reuters show no marked increase in what they refer to as "assistance for prisoners and detainees". Monthly payments were around 42 million shekels ($11.85 million) in December 2018, decreasing to 38.4 million shekels ($10.83 million) in April 2019.
Payments spiked to 75 million shekels ($21.15 million) in May 2019, which a ministry spokesman attributed to arrears payments and a bonus for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Civil servant salaries also spiked in May. Later data was not available.
The PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, has been grappling with a financial crisis since it refused in February to accept tax transfers from Israel after Israeli authorities cut the portion designated for prisoners' families.
Under interim peace accords, Israel collects taxes on imports into the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, an enclave under Palestinian Islamist rule since 2007, and makes monthly transfers of the proceeds to the PA.
The tax transfers of around 700 million ($197 million) shekels per month make up about half of the PA's budget, and the government has slashed civil servant salaries since March to weather the crisis.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to accept the partial tax remittances from Israel, saying the PA is entitled to all the money under interim peace deals.
The mounting financial pressures on the PA have sent its debt soaring to $3 billion, and led to a severe contraction in its estimated $13 billion GDP economy, according to the PA’s top central banker.


Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 49 min 59 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.