Saudi Arabia pledges $100m to help stabilize Syria’s northeast

Saudi Arabia pledges $100m to help stabilize Syria’s northeast
Aleppo in northeast Syria suffered extensive destruction while occupied by Daesh. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2018

Saudi Arabia pledges $100m to help stabilize Syria’s northeast

Saudi Arabia pledges $100m to help stabilize Syria’s northeast
  • United States, which leads the anti-Daesh coalition, expressed its  thanks for the funds
  • The money will help ensure the militants cannot re-emerge as a threat

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has contributed $100 million to help reconstruct areas of north-eastern Syria formerly held by Daesh.

The Kingdom said the contribution would go toward a campaign by the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to “stabilize” the former Daesh bastion and help ensure the militants cannot re-emerge as a threat.

The United States, which leads the coalition, expressed its  thanks and appreciation to Riyadh.

“This significant contribution is critical to stabilization and early recovery efforts,” a State Department spokeswoman said. “Saudi Arabia has been a leading partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS from the outset.”

The funds are the biggest single financial  contribution yet for reconstruction efforts in areas formerly controlled by the extremists.

The money would “save lives, help facilitate the return of displaced Syrians, and help ensure that Daesh cannot reemerge to threaten Syria, its neighbors, or plan attacks against the international community,” the Saudi Embassy in Washington said.

The contribution aims to support “stabilization projects” and “will play a critical role in the coalition’s efforts to revitalize communities, such as Raqqa, that have been devastated by Daesh terrorists.”

The statement said the money showed Saudi Arabia’s continued commitment to serve as a stabilizing force in the region.

The funds, part of a pledge made by Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir last month, will go towards projects to restore essential services in the areas of health, agriculture, electricity, water, education, and transportation.

The United Nations has said reconstruction in Syria would cost at least $250 billion. The Daesh takeover of large areas of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014 led to huge levels of destruction. 

A conference on the reconstruction of Iraq held in Kuwait in February raised $30 billion in funding commitment. Saudi Arabia said at the event it would contribute $1.5 billion in financial and reconstruction support. 

Saudi Arabia also hosted the founding conference for the coalition in Jeddah in September 2014, and soon after flew the first air missions to bomb Daesh targets in Syria.


Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran
Updated 27 July 2021

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran

Israel defense minister to visit France to discuss spyware firm, Iran
  • Israel’s Defense Ministry oversees commercial exports of spyware and cyber-surveillance technologies
  • Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to France this week to discuss spyware sold by Israeli cyber firm NSO that was allegedly used to target French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron’s phone was on a list of targets that were possibly under surveillance by Morocco, which used NSO Group’s Pegasus software, according to France’s Le Monde newspaper. The French leader has called for an investigation.
Gantz will meet French Defense Minister Florence Parly on Wednesday, an official Israeli statement said.
“Gantz will discuss the crisis in Lebanon and the developing agreement with Iran. He will also update the minister on the topic of NSO,” it said.
Israel’s Defense Ministry oversees commercial exports of spyware and cyber-surveillance technologies like Pegasus.
A global investigation published last week by 17 media organizations, led by the Paris-based non-profit journalism group Forbidden Stories, said Pegasus had been used in attempted and successful hacks of smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.
Israel has since set up a senior inter-ministerial team to assess any possible misuse of the spyware.
NSO rejected the reports, saying it was “full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories.” Pegasus is intended for use only by government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime, the company said.
Gantz’s trip was planned before the NSO affair and was meant to focus on the growing economic crisis in Lebanon, which shares a border with Israel, and on world powers’ efforts to resume a nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli media said.
Israel is concerned a revival of the deal may eventually allow its arch-foe Tehran to acquire atomic weapons. Iran denies seeking the bomb. Attempts to revive the 2015 accord, after then-President Donald Trump abandoned it in 2018, have been slow to make progress.
France’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Iran was endangering the chance of concluding an accord with world powers over reviving the deal if it did not return to the negotiating table soon.


Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war
Updated 27 July 2021

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war

Human Rights Watch: Israeli war crimes apparent in Gaza war
  • Rights group issues conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians
  • Such attacks violate ‘the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians’

JERUSALEM: Human Rights Watch on Tuesday accused the Israeli military of carrying attacks that “apparently amount to war crimes” during an 11-day war against the Hamas militant group in May.
The international human rights organization issued its conclusions after investigating three Israeli airstrikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians. It said “there were no evident military targets in the vicinity” of the attacks.
The report also accused Palestinian militants of apparent war crimes by launching over 4,000 unguided rockets and mortars at Israeli population centers. Such attacks, it said, violate “the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”
The report, however, focused on Israeli actions during the fighting, and the group said it would issue a separate report on the actions of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in August.
“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associated crisis and conflict director at HRW. He said Israel’s “consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes,” coupled with Palestinian rocket fire at Israeli civilian areas, underscored the importance of an ongoing investigation into both sides by the International Criminal Court, or ICC.
There was no immediate reaction to the report by the Israeli military, which has repeatedly said its attacks were aimed at military targets in Gaza. It blames Hamas for civilian casualties by launching rocket attacks and other military operations inside residential areas.
The war erupted on May 10 after Hamas fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests against Israel’s heavy-handed policing of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, built on a contested site sacred to Jews and Muslims, and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers in a nearby neighborhood. In all, Hamas fired over 4,000 rockets and mortars toward Israel, while Israel has said it struck over 1,000 targets linked to Gaza militants.
In all, some 254 people were killed in Gaza, including at least 67 children and 39 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Hamas has acknowledged the deaths of 80 militants, while Israel has claimed the number is much higher. Twelve civilians, including two children, were killed in Israel, along with one soldier.
The HRW report looked into Israeli airstrikes. The most serious, on May 16, involved a series of strikes on Al-Wahda Street, a central thoroughfare in downtown Gaza City. The airstrikes destroyed three apartment buildings and killed a total of 44 civilians, HRW said, including 18 children and 14 women. Twenty-two of the dead were members of a single family, the Al-Kawlaks.
Israel has said the attacks were aimed at tunnels used by Hamas militants in the area and suggested the damage to the homes was unintentional.
In its investigation, HRW concluded that Israel had used US-made GBU-31 precision-guided bombs, and that Israel had not warned any of the residents to evacuate the area ahead of time. It also it found no evidence of military targets in the area.
“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” it wrote.
The investigation also looked at a May 10 explosion that killed eight people, including six children, near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It said the two adults were civilians.
Israel has suggested the explosion was caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket. But based on an analysis of munition remnants and witness accounts, HRW said evidence indicated the weapon had been “a type of guided missile.”
“Human Rights Watch found no evidence of a military target at or near the site of the strike,” it said.
The third attack it investigated occurred on May 15, in which an Israeli airstrike destroyed a three-story building in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp. The strike killed 10 people, including two women and eight children.
HRW investigators determined the building was hit by a US-made guided missile. It said Israel has said that senior Hamas officials were hiding in the building. But the group said no evidence of a military target at or near the site and called for an investigation into whether there was a legitimate military objective and “all feasible precautions” were taken to avoid civilian casualties.
The May conflict was the fourth war between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group, which opposes Israel’s existence, seized control of Gaza in 2007. Human Rights Watch, other rights groups and UN officials have accused both sides of committing war crimes in all of the conflicts.
Early this year, HRW accused Israel of being guilty of international crimes of apartheid and persecution because of discriminatory polices toward Palestinians, both inside Israel as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel rejected the accusations.
In Tuesday’s report, it called on the United States to condition security assistance to Israel on it taking “concrete and verifiable actions” to comply with international human rights law and to investigate past abuses.
It also called on the ICC to include the recent Gaza war in its ongoing investigation into possible war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups. Israel does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and says it is capable of investigating any potential wrongdoing by its army and that the ICC probe is unfair and politically motivated.


Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19
Updated 27 July 2021

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19

Oman vaccinates almost 2 million people against COVID-19
  • The number of people who took the first dose of a vaccine stood at 1,587,784

DUBAI: Almost 2 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Oman since the start of the country’s National Immunization Campaign. 

This represents 53% of the targeted population, the state-owned Oman News Agency said. 

The number of people who took the first dose of a vaccine stood at 1,587,784 while the number of those who took two doses stood at 338,523, it said. 

Muscat governorate came first in the number of vaccinated people that reached 618,264 (55% of the target category) followed by North Al Batinah with 234,808 (39%), then South Al Batinah with 153,277 (45%).


Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’

Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’
Updated 27 July 2021

Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’

Lebanon’s new PM-designate promises to ‘tell the truth about everything’
  • In his first interview as prime minister-designate, Najib Mikati said he plans ‘to form a government of specialists’ to rescue country from its economic crisis
  • He said: ‘I know my limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran’ and ‘we do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country’

BEIRUT: In his first interview after being appointed Lebanon’s prime minister-designate and tasked with forming a government, Najib Mikati promised the Lebanese people he will “tell the truth about everything.”

Mikati won the backing of the Lebanese parliament on Monday, receiving 72 votes out of a possible 118. He replaces Saad Hariri, who resigned as PM-designate on July 15 after nine months of failed negotiations with President Michel Aoun to form a government.

In an exclusive interview with Nayla Tueni, editor-in-chief of Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, Mikati said that “Hariri’s patriotic feeling prompted him to step down.” He also stated that “there are international and American guarantees that Lebanon will not collapse.”

Mikati said that he wants “to form a government of specialists so that we can implement” a previously proposed French initiative that is “capable of helping Lebanon.”

As a result of fuel shortages, Lebanon has been hit but power outages recently, and Mikati stressed the need to “address the electricity problem.”

The country is also experiencing an ongoing financial crisis, during which the currency has lost most of its value. Mikati said that “banks are experiencing difficulties but work can be done to solve them.”

As for the challenge of forming a new government, almost a year after the previous authority resigned in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port, Mikati said: “President Michel Aoun is betting on the government and wants to save the country. I told him that I will visit Baabda Palace as soon as (possible) to start forming the government.”

He added: “I have been assigned to continue (this task) and there is light at the end of the tunnel. I can carry out this task.

“I know my limits in the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran. We are with the Arab option, and we do not want Lebanon to be a conduit for conspiracy against any Arab country.”

Two Christian parliamentary groups refused to nominate Mikati during the consultations that led to his appointment, but he said he “understands their position and it is not personal.” He added that his relationship with them “is excellent and is based on respect.” He pointed out that the country is on the cusp of parliamentary elections and predicted that the groups “will support me from the outside because they are looking forward to four years in parliament.”

Talking about the Beirut explosion, Mikati said it “is a disaster that requires great efforts to be dealt with. We want to know the truth about who brought in the ammonium nitrate.” It was stored at the port without proper safety precautions and caused the disaster. He said that Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the official investigation into the blast, “is a man of conscience.”

In 2019 Mikati faced corruption charges relating to housing loans, but he told An-Nahar he “did not commit any infringements.”

A businessman who does not represent a particular political party or bloc, Mikati has served as PM on two previous occasions: on a caretaker basis for three months in 2005 and from June 2011 until February 2014.


Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm

Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm
Updated 49 min 54 sec ago

Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm

Why Tunisians were caught in the eye of the coronavirus storm
  • Ennahda party at the receiving end of anger over perceived government mismanagement of pandemic
  • Slow vaccine rollout, lax observance of safety protocols and delta variant seen as contributing factors

DUBAI: Hasna Worshafani, a Dubai-based paralegal, had not been able to visit her parents in their native Tunisia for more than a year owing to COVID-19 air travel restrictions.

But just as the curbs began to be lifted, the North African country was struck by a devastating new wave of virus cases, forcing her to postpone her trip once again.

“The plan was to spend Eid Al-Adha with my parents, but because the situation back home is not okay, and there is a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, I decided to put travel plans on hold until things settled a little,” Worshafani, a mother of two children, told Arab News.

Tunisia is among five African states in the throes of a devastating third wave of COVID-19 infections. The country, with a population of 11.69 million, has reported more than 18,600 deaths since the pandemic was declared in March last year.

On Sunday, hundreds of protesters rallied in the capital, Tunis, and other cities demanding the government’s resignation in the face of pandemic-linked economic and political troubles. By the end of the day, President Kais Saied had announced the suspension of parliament and the dismissal of Hichem Mechichi from the post of prime minister.

Hospitals have struggled with oxygen shortages and a lack of staff and ICU beds, prompting Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France and Egypt among other countries to send emergency medical supplies and vaccine doses to Tunisia.

Authorities have also failed to implement a speedy vaccine rollout. Fewer than a million people — about eight percent of the population — have been fully vaccinated, even as the caseload has surged to one of the highest in Africa.

While there are several reasons for the uptick in COVID-19 cases, many Tunisians hold the Islamist Ennahda — the largest party in parliament — responsible for the deteriorating economic, social and health conditions since its entry into power in 2019.

Analysts say the shibboleths of democracy and pluralism that roll off the Islamists’ lips during election season may not assuage the public’s fears and anxieties stemming from the collapse of the health system and the parlous state of the economy.

One Tunisian expat said that lockdowns and travel bans became ‘unbearable for many people.’ (AFP)

Pointing to the scenes of jubilation that greeted the presidential announcement on Sunday night and the reports of attempts to storm Ennahda offices in multiple cities, the analysts say Tunisia’s Islamists will wait to see which way the political wind blows before flexing their muscles. As things stand, mass unemployment and declining state services have eroded public support for democracy.

Although Ennahda, along with leftists, supported Saied in the 2019 presidential election, their relations began to sour since the start of the pandemic. A prolonged deadlock between the president, the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament was seen as a major reason behind the government’s bungled response to the latest COVID-19 wave.

Mechichi, who was appointed head of government exactly one year ago, had overseen an unruly cabinet rocked by ministerial resignations and tensions with President Saied. As soaring COVID-19 cases swamped Tunisia’s hospitals, he sacked the health minister this month. But the move was seen by many as a case of too little too late.

None of this is to say politicians are solely to blame for the COVID-19 catastrophe in Tunisia. Similar to much of the world in the spring of 2020, the country implemented a full lockdown. The strategy proved extremely effective, with Tunisia reporting zero cases for a period of 40 days. But when the borders were reopened in June and tourists began to return, cases suddenly shot up.

Bureaucrats in much of North Africa failed to anticipate the impact of at least three factors when they decided to relax lockdowns or open up borders. The first is the high transmissibility of the delta variant, thought to have originated in India. The second is dwindling compliance with hygiene and social-distancing measures, and the third is the extremely low rate of vaccination.

“Different countries have different epidemiological situations, so we can’t generalize all of North Africa,” Abdinasir Abubakar, head of the Infectious Hazard Management Unit at the WHO regional office in Cairo, told Arab News.

He said some countries “invested so much in vaccination and this is paying off,” while others focused on enforcing public health measures to slow the spread of the virus.

Public anger over the lax government response to post-revolution security threats has haunted the ruling Ennahda party. (AFP)

However, poor compliance has been widely observed in Tunisia, contributing to a surge in cases of the delta variant. “That is actually what is driving the new surge of cases in North Africa, as well as other countries in the region,” Abubakar said.

To bring down the caseload, Abubakar wants the public to adhere to government restrictions on movement and mass gatherings.

“Governments need to reinforce restrictions. But, most importantly, people need to understand the reason why governments are imposing restrictions: Because of safety, health, and protection,” he said.

“People need to comply and respect that. They need to wear masks. They need to respect physical distancing. They need to promote handwashing and cleaning and they need to get vaccinated. They need to avoid any big social gatherings and travel.”

Abubakar is confident the situation in Tunisia and other African countries can be brought under control. For now, he is more concerned about the shortage of oxygen across the region.

“Literally, everywhere we are going through this. People are dying simply because there is not enough oxygen. We have never prioritized it and now this is something we need to do, and it is very easy to do as long as there is commitment and resources,” he said.

Worshafani, the Tunisian expat in Dubai, thinks the situation has deteriorated in her home country for one simple reason: Lockdowns and travel bans had become unbearable for many households.

“Authorities can’t impose a full lockdown for long, because the economy can’t take such a hit after peoples’ lives were badly affected by the lockdowns last year,” she said.

“The cost of living in Tunisia has steadily increased during the past 10 years. People have lost patience.”

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi