Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco

Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco
Updated 28 December 2013

Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco

Algeria smuggling crackdown cuts fuel line to Morocco

OUJDA, Morocco: Until three months ago, petrol smuggling literally drove Morocco’s neglected eastern region, where the subsidized liquid smuggled in from Algeria fueled the local economy.
But in June, Algiers took drastic measures to curtail the illegal trade, clamping down on traffic across its border with Morocco, which has officially been closed since 1994.
“Since the Algerians shut the border my car hasn’t budged,” one Moroccan resident of the area told AFP.
The unofficial cross-border movement of people and goods has long been a feature of daily life here, with members of the same families living either side of the divide and much money to be made from contraband.
Algiers beefed up its border controls in a bid to stem the haemorrhaging of cheap Algerian fuel, through which the state was losing $1.3 billion a year, according to energy ministry figures.
Before the clampdown, some 600,000 cars were estimated to be running on Algerian fuel smuggled into neighboring countries, notably Morocco.
It remains unclear what prompted the move by Algiers, although it coincided with an outburst of particularly hostile rhetoric from senior officials in both countries.
In energy-rich Algeria, petrol and diesel cost as little as 23 dinars (0.23 euros) and 13.4 dinars (0.13 euros) a liter respectively.
By contrast, its western neighbor and regional arch-rival imports virtually all its energy needs, with motorists paying more than one euro for a liter of petrol.
So the Algiers move had serious implications for the Oriental region of Morocco, as it is known, with its population of more than two million.
“My car carried up to one ton of diesel, two or three times a week. Today it’s good for nothing,” complained one man in his 30s, sipping tea near the Zouj-Bghal border post.
Since acceding to the throne in 1999, King Mohamed VI has sought to promote development in the remote region, launching projects from factories to infrastructure, including a motorway connecting Oujda to the capital Rabat, 520 kilometers (320 miles) away.
But decades of neglect and its remote location, far from Morocco’s commercial centers on the Atlantic coast, have made the region heavily dependent on covert trade — and remittances from Moroccans living abroad.
The first painful consequence of Algeria’s new policy was a jump in contraband fuel prices, 30-liter cans of diesel nearly tripling in price and fares charged by the ubiquitous white Mercedes taxis rising with it, by 20 percent.
“We are fed up with this situation. One day we’re going to take over the streets with our cars and block everything,” said Fathi Miri, one of thousands of taxi drivers now struggling to survive.
Because of the reinforced border controls, and ditches that smugglers say have been dug by the Algerian authorities since June, the only viable way to haul goods across the border now is by donkey.
Loaded with jerrycans, the pack animals travel after dusk in their hundreds, through olive groves and along steep winding paths that they follow instinctively, transporting their precious cargo.
But it can be a dangerous journey.
“The Algerian army recently fired at some donkeys and killed them. Fortunately they were unaccompanied on the Algerian side,” said one Moroccan living near the border.
But given the new challenges to transporting fuel, some smugglers have turned to people trafficking.
“I help Moroccans into Algeria and Algerians into Morocco,” said one.
“I get 300 dirhams (28 euros) for each client transported across the border. But with the onset of winter, there will be no one,” he added.
Until Algeria tightened its border controls, more than 18,000 people lived off fuel smuggling, said Hassan Ammari of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), who questions what they will do now.
As a stopgap measure, the Moroccan government is sending around 700 tons of fuel to the region daily.
But this is a drop in the ocean, compared with the 300,000 tons that used to arrive from Algeria, said Mohamed Benkaddor, president of the region’s consumer protection association.
Oujda’s Islamist MP Abdelaziz Aftati, contacted by AFP, called for an official reopening of the border, which has been closed at considerable cost to both sides since 1994, after a guerrilla attack on a hotel in Marrakesh which Rabat blamed on Algerian intelligence.
“Cooperation between our two countries is necessary, whatever the differences,” Aftati said.
However, this view does not seem to resonate in Algeria, where government officials earlier this month hailed the clampdown on smuggling, saying it was starting to “bear fruit.”

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed
Updated 58 min 50 sec ago

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

JERUSALEM: The lone Israeli court judge looking into the eviction appeal lodged by Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem has decided to let three judges of the Supreme Court take up the case on Monday.

The decision follows the rejection of both the Jewish settler organization and lawyers for the Palestinian families to reach an agreement between them as requested by the judge.

Lawyer Hosni Abu Hussein, representing the Palestinian families, told Arab News that the Israeli judge did not have the courage to take the right decision.

“Our request to appeal the eviction was based on sound legal arguments that any judge would have easily accepted but the prevailing atmosphere made it difficult for the judge to stand up for justice.”

Head of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel Mohammad Baraka and member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi met with representatives of the families in Jerusalem and later issued a statement of support for their “steadfastness” and their rejections of compromise offers.

Tibi told Arab News that the priority is to support the Palestinian families and to protect the Arab identity of Jerusalem. “It is clear that the aim of this unjust eviction effort is to Judaize the Arab city of Jerusalem,” he said.

Abdel Latif Ghaith, a senior veteran Jerusalem activist, told Arab News that the public support for the people of Sheikh Jarrah must continue without any hesitation.

“What is clear is that the Israeli courts will not act on their own even in a case where justice is so obvious. The public pressure both local, regional and international, together with the legal effort and the undisputed documentation, will reverse the effort of the Jewish settlers bent on taking over this Palestinian area,” he said.

Ehab Abdel Latif, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah who has illegal Jewish settlers on two sides of his house, said he is worried. “Although we are not at present threatened with eviction, if the Israeli courts insist on turning a blind eye to the facts in this case and give unquestioned support to the Jewish settlers, then we are all doomed.”

Jordan was in control of Jerusalem when the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) built housing units on the vacant land and started to charge Palestinians rent. Settler organizations, which also claim to be the owners of the land, are now demanding rent payment.

Layer Abu Hussein explained that the compromise the courts wanted failed because of the gap between both sides. Palestinians said that they are willing to avoid eviction on grounds of not paying the rent by depositing the rent to a fund at the courts, while the Jewish settler organization Lahav Shomron is willing to allow the Palestinians to stay at their homes on condition that they pay rent to them. But if this happens the settlers will be considered landowners.

According to the rent protection law in Jerusalem, the offer by the settler organization allows Palestinian families to stay as long as a designated member of the family is alive. Thereafter, the settler organization would take over the homes. Palestinian residents have rejected this offer.

New evidence, which has emerged from the Ottoman records in Turkey and the Jordanian government, proves Jordan and the UNRWA agreed to build housing units on the land for Palestinians, Abu Hussein said. The land actually belonged to the Hijazi Saadi family, dated 1149 Hijri (1736 AD).

Using old Ottoman documents, the settlers’ side said the land belonged to an oriental Jewish group that registered itself in 1972.

Palestinian lawyers dispute this claim, arguing that the documents in the Ottoman archives in Istanbul that the settlers refer to do not exist and are forged.

Abu Hussein said that settlers have made ownership claims without proof that they are the original owners of the land.

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat
Updated 06 May 2021

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat
  • El-Sisi said Egypt has adopted a flexible approach to the issue over the years through a range of negotiation methods

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has reiterated that the issue of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) is an “existential issue” for Egyptians, adding that his country will not accept any risk to its water supply.

In a meeting with US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman on Wednesday, El-Sisi said Egypt is keen to enhance bilateral cooperation with the US and underlined the vital role of such a partnership in achieving stability in the Middle East and Africa.

A spokesman for El-Sisi said the two men discussed several issues relevant to the Horn of Africa, foremost of which was the GERD. Feltman said the US is keen to help reach “a fair and comprehensive settlement” to the matter, given its great importance to Egypt and the region.

Ethiopia started building the 1.8 km-long gravity dam in 2011. Egypt fears it will threaten its supplies of water from the River Nile. Sudan, meanwhile, is concerned about the dam’s safety and its effect on the water supply of Sudanese dams and water stations.

El-Sisi said Egypt has adopted a flexible approach to the issue over the years through a range of negotiation methods. Egypt’s approach, he said, has been based on seeking a “balanced and legally binding” agreement that respects the interests of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. He blamed Ethiopia’s “lack of political will” for the failure of negotiations to date.

The president stressed that Egypt is still seeking a fair agreement regarding the filling and operation of the dam under the negotiations sponsored by the African Union, led this year by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.

El-Sisi called on the international community to “assume its responsibilities” to help solve the crisis. The president also highlighted the vital role of US influence in this regard.

Feltman said the US values its strategic relations with Egypt highly in light of Cairo’s political influence and pivotal role in the region. The envoy also stressed America’s desire to boost cooperation with Egypt.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati also met with Feltman. They told him that Egypt still hopes to reach an agreement over the GERD before summer this year.

They added that the process of filling the dam should be carried out according to an agreement that respects the interests of Egypt and Sudan — the two downstream nations — and limits any damage to those two countries.

During their meeting with Feltman, the ministers expressed Egypt’s willingness do as much as possible to ensure the success of the negotiations sponsored by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Both ministers said Egypt is looking forward to cooperating with its international partners, especially the US, to achieve this goal.

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain
Updated 06 May 2021

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain

Italy says Libyan coast guard fired on its fishing boats, injuring captain
  • The captain of one of the boats was "slightly injured" and transferred to an Italian navy vessel
  • There have been frequent tensions between Italy and Libya over Italian fishing activity off the North African coast

ROME: The Libyan coast guard on Thursday fired on three Italian fishing boats, injuring the captain of one of the vessels, Italian authorities said.
The boats operating out of the Sicilian port of Mazara del Vallo were fishing some 30 to 40 nautical miles off the Libyan coastal town of Misrata when a Libyan coast guard vessel fired warning shots against them.
Giuseppe Giacalone, the captain of one of the boats, was “slightly injured” and transferred to an Italian navy vessel, the mayor of Mazara del Vallo, Salvatore Quinci, told Reuters, confirming reports in Italian media.
There have been frequent tensions between Italy and Libya over Italian fishing activity off the North African coast.
Last September a group of Italian sailors were seized by Libyan patrol boats while fishing in the Mediterranean, accused by local authorities of operating in Libya’s territorial waters. They were released some three months later.
“This is the umpteenth attack by the Libyan government in Tripoli,” Quinci told Reuters.
The southern Mediterranean fishing grounds have been disputed since 2005, when Libya’s then ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, unilaterally extended Libyan territorial waters to 74 nautical miles offshore from 12.
Enrico Letta, leader of Italy’s co-ruling Democratic Party, tweeted that the latest incident was “inconceivable” and Mario Draghi’s government “must not be satisfied by apologies or vague explanations” from Libya.
Libya’s new unity government took office in March from two warring administrations that had ruled eastern and western regions, completing a smooth transition of power after a decade of violent chaos.

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut
Updated 06 May 2021

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut

French foreign minister delivers warning to Lebanese MPs in Beirut
  • Arab News learns that Le Drian hinted that sanctions might be imposed against those blocking formation of government

BEIRUT: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stressed during his meetings with Lebanese officials on Thursday that “the French initiative to solve the crisis in forming the Lebanese government is still in force and the responsibility for implementing it rests with the Lebanese.”

Arab News has learned that Le Drian also hinted that sanctions might be imposed against those who obstruct the formation of the new government.

On the eve of his arrival in Beirut, Le Drian tweeted that he would deliver “a strongly worded message to political officials and a message expressing our full solidarity with the Lebanese people. We will deal firmly with those who obstruct the formation of the government, and we have taken national measures, and this is only the beginning.”

He also said that his visit to Lebanon “confirms France’s solidarity in the field of education, medicine, and archeology as well as its support for the Lebanese who are doing their best for their country.”

Following the Beirut port blast in August, French President Emmanuel Macron announced an initiative to help form a government of specialists to help lift Lebanon out of its economic crisis.

However, Macron’s initiative has not yet been implemented, so people in Lebanon followed Le Drian’s meetings with interest.

Before Le Drian’s visit there was speculation that he did not intend to meet with Prime Minister-designate, Saad Hariri, but might meet with the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Gebran Bassil.

Some had predicted that Hariri would give up his post as PM-designate due to his ongoing disagreement with President Michel Aoun and his political team over the formation of the new government, with Aoun reportedly demanding a ‘blocking third’ for his allies.

However, after meeting with Aoun, Le Drian also met with Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri as well as Hariri.

Aoun’s media office reported that, during his meeting with Le Drian, the president said, “Achieving reforms, foremost of which is the financial audit, which constitutes the first item in the French initiative announced on Sept. 1, 2020, is essential for the advancement of Lebanon and restoring the confidence of the Lebanese and the international community. Forming a new government that will enjoy the confidence of parliament is the top priority.”

Aoun pledged to “continue exerting efforts to reach practical results in this issue, despite the internal and external obstacles and the lack of response of those concerned, by following the constitutional principles and methodology adopted in forming governments.”

He also laid out “the constitutional responsibilities entrusted to the president ... and his responsibility to maintain political and sectarian balance during the formation of the government to ensure that it gains the confidence of parliament” and spoke about the “cost of wasted time to complete the formation process.”

The meeting between Aoun and Le Drian lasted for half an hour, after which Le Drian left without making a statement.

Le Drian held meetings at the Senoub Palace with a number of opposition and partisan figures, including leaders of groups protesting against the corruption of the ruling authority. These groups presented their views on the current reality in Lebanon and their vision of ways in which France could provide assistance to Lebanon to ensure a peaceful transfer of power, stage parliamentary elections, and address financial cases.

However, several groups declined the invitation, including the “Li Haqqi” (I Have My Right) group. Nizar Hassan, a researcher in social movements from that group, told Arab News: “A lengthy discussion took place within the group about the feasibility of attending the meeting with the French minister, and we decided not to attend because there was no great benefit (in doing so).”

He said there were several reasons for this, including “the rejection of France’s attempt to bring the political class in Lebanon to the surface to restore it to power again.”

Future Movement MP Mohamad Hajjar described the speculation that Le Drian would not meet with Hariri as “illogical.”

He said Hariri is committed to “forming a government of specialists to help the country, while another party insists on putting the country on the brink and is dealing with everyone on the basis that either MP Gebran Bassil be the next president or the country will fall into chaos. And Hezbollah is watching.”

Lebanon’s economic crisis reached a new peak on Thursday when Electricité du Liban (EDL) announcement that it no longer had enough money to buy fuel and that it would “be forced to reduce its production, which would negatively impact the feeding hours in all regions, including the administrative areas of Beirut.”

This came hours after the financial prosecutor, Judge Ali Ibrahim, issued a decision to stop the payment of sums owed to the Turkish energy company Karadeniz and its Karpowership branch in Lebanon for power ships chartered to produce electricity.

The judge’s decision was based on “preliminary investigations conducted by the Financial Prosecutor’s Office into the possibility of brokers, commission, or corruption in the dealership of ships producing electricity” and is intended to “oblige the two aforementioned companies to return $25 million to the Lebanese state, and to circulate a search and inquiry order against the owners of the two companies.”

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Council suspended a law that parliament had approved granting and advance from the treasury to EDL after MPs from the Lebanese Forces Party filed an appeal “because the advance will use the money of the people and depositors remaining in the reserves of the Banque du Liban to finance electricity, and this was described by the MPs as burning people’s money.”

The Constitutional Council stressed, “If the law violates the constitution, it will be annulled, and if it is not in violation, we will reject the appeal.”

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks
Updated 06 May 2021

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks

Blinken reveals uncertainty clouding US-Iran nuclear talks
  • US secretary of state: ‘We don’t yet know’ if Tehran is serious about making a deal in Vienna
  • Blinken tells BBC Iran could acquire nuclear weapons within months

LONDON: Negotiators in talks with Iran over curbs to its nuclear program do not yet know if Tehran is willing to make a deal, according to the White House’s top diplomat.

“We’ve been engaged now in Vienna for some weeks with our European partners, with Russia, China, and indirectly … with Iran,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the BBC on Thursday.

“We’ve demonstrated our very seriousness of purpose in terms of wanting to get back into the so-called JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),” he added. 

“What we don’t yet know is whether Iran is prepared to make the same decision and move forward.” 

Blinken warned that, having progressively walked back on nuclear curbs hammered out as part of the 2015 deal agreed with world powers, Tehran could acquire nuclear weapons within months.

Under the original deal, from which former US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018, Iran received billions of dollars’ worth of sanctions relief in exchange for strict curbs and heavy monitoring of its nuclear program.

“Right now, unfortunately, Iran has itself lifted many of the constraints imposed on it by the agreement because we pulled out,” Blinken said.

“And it’s now getting closer and closer again to that point where its breakout time is going to be down to a few months and eventually even less.”