World Bank urges Israel to remove Palestine restrictions

Palestinian children do their homework during a power cut in Gaza City on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2017

World Bank urges Israel to remove Palestine restrictions

JERUSALEM: Even in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, steps can be taken now that could significantly brighten a gloomy Palestinian economic situation, according to the World Bank (WB).
In a new report, the WB said addressing external constraints on the Palestinian economy “is the most important factor” in any turnaround, but the Palestinian Authority, which administers limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank, also had to do its part to cut red tape stifling business activity.
Removing Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement in so-called Area C in the occupied West Bank — where Israel maintains civil and security control — could boost the size of the West Bank economy by one-third in eight years, the WB said.
“Such growth would not only be enabled by better access to critical scarce resources, notably land and water, but also other natural resources that would allow Palestinian businesses to take advantage of Area C’s comparative advantages in agriculture, mining and quarrying, and tourism,” it said.
Area C, designated by interim peace deals signed in the 1990s, represents 61 percent of West Bank territory, and Israel cites security concerns for the restrictions it imposes there.
According to the WB, currently less than 1 percent of Area C, which is already built up, is designated by the Israeli authorities for Palestinian use, while the remainder is heavily restricted or off-limits to Palestinians.
The report noted recent “encouraging but limited measures” announced by Israel to allow a Palestinian industrial zone and the municipal boundaries of the Palestinian city of Qalqilya to expand into Area C.
As for the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, where Israel and Egypt maintain tight border restrictions, alleviating restrictions on the movement of goods and people would allow critical trade to rebuild the territory’s infrastructure and economy following the 2014 war.
Drop in donor aid
Conflict in Gaza and a drop in foreign donor aid combined to slow real average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to 2 percent between 2013 and 2016. It dropped to 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017, the World Bank said.
“Under a baseline scenario which assumes that the current Israeli restrictions remain in place and no improvement in the domestic economic and political environment, real GDP growth of the Palestinian economy is projected to reach 3 percent in 2017: 2.7 percent in the West Bank and 4 percent in Gaza,” the report added.
“This growth level implies a near stagnation in real per capita income and an increase in unemployment.”
Based on second quarter 2017 figures cited by the bank, employment in the West Bank, home to some 2.6 million people, is at 21 percent, and 44 percent in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of 2 million.


Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

Updated 29 February 2020

Turkey raises migrant pressure on EU over Syria conflict

  • Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib region on Thursday
  • Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks

PAZARKULE: Turkey vowed the Syrian regime will “pay a price” for dozens of dead Turkish soldiers and raised pressure on the EU over the conflict by threatening to let thousands of migrants enter the bloc.
Turkey and Russia, which back opposing forces in the Syria conflict, held high-level talks to try to defuse tensions that have sparked fears of a broader war and a new migration crisis for Europe.
Greek police clashed on Saturday with thousands of migrants who were already gathering on the border to try to enter Europe.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday vowed to allow refugees to travel on to Europe from Turkey which he said can no longer handle new waves of people fleeing war-torn Syria. It already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
The comments were his first after Turkish 34 troops were killed since Thursday in the northern Syria province of Idlib where Moscow-backed Syrian regime forces are battling to retake the last rebel holdout area.
“What did we do yesterday (Friday)? We opened the doors,” Erdogan said in Istanbul. “We will not close those doors ...Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises.”
He was referring to a 2016 deal with the European Union to stop refugee flows in exchange for billions of euros in aid.
In Athens, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis held an emergency meeting to discuss tensions on the border with Turkey.
The Turkish leader said 18,000 migrants have amassed on the Turkish borders with Europe since Friday, adding that the number could reach as many as 30,000 on Saturday.
Thousands of migrants who remained stuck on the Turkish-Greek border were in skirmishes with Greek police on Saturday who fired tear gas to push them back, according to AFP photographer in the western province of Edirne.
The migrants massed at the Pazarkule border crossing responded by hurling stones at the police.
In 2015, Greece became the main EU entry point for one million migrants, most of them refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war. The pressure to cope with the influx split the European Union.
“Greece yesterday came under an organized, mass, illegal attack... a violation of our borders and endured it,” government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Saturday after the emergency meeting with Mitsotakis.
“We averted more than 4,000 attempts of illegal entrance to our land borders.”
A Greek police source said security forces fired tear gas Saturday morning against migrants massing on the Turkish side because the migrants had set fires and opened holes in the border fences.
Armed policemen and soldiers are patrolling the Evros river shores — a common crossing point — and are warning with loudspeakers not to enter Greek territory.
Greek authorities were also using drones to monitor the migrants moves.
Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos told Skai television the situation was under control
“I believe that the borders have been protected,” he said.
According to Hellenic Coast Guard, from early Friday to early Saturday 180 migrants reached the islands of Eastern Aegean, Lesbos and Samos in sea crossings.
The UN said nearly a million people — half of them children — have been displaced in the bitter cold by the fighting in northwest Syria since December.
Turkey said that Turkish forces destroyed a “chemical warfare facility,” just south of Aleppo, in retaliation its soldiers were killed by Syrian regime fire in Idlib.
“As of last night, we blew up a depot housing seven chemical products,” Erdogan said. “We would not want things to reach this point but as they force us to do this, they will pay a price.”
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on sources inside the war-torn country, said that Turkey instead hit a military airport in eastern Aleppo, where the monitoring group says there are no chemical weapons.
Thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Russian-backed Syrian regime forces in the Idlib on Thursday, the biggest Turkish military loss on the battlefield in recent years. A 34th Turkish soldier has since died.
The latest incident has raised further tensions between Ankara and Moscow, whose relationship has been tested by violations of a 2018 deal to prevent a regime offensive on Idlib.
As part of the agreement, Ankara set up 12 observation posts in the province but Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces — backed by Russian air power — have pressed on with a relentless campaign to take back the remaining chunks of the territory.
On Friday, Erdogan spoke by phone with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in a bid to scale down the tensions, with the Kremlin saying the two expressed “serious concern” about the situation.
Erdogan may travel next week to Moscow for talks, according to the Kremlin.
Despite being on opposite ends of the war, Turkey, which backs several rebel groups in Syria, and key regime ally Russia are trying to find a political solution.
The United States and the United Nations have called for an end to the Syrian offensive in Idlib and the deadly flare-up raising fresh concerns for civilians caught up in the escalation of the eight-year civil war.