Israel arrests senior Palestinian official

A cleric checks a gate at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. (AFP)
Updated 27 February 2019

Israel arrests senior Palestinian official

  • The Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, was among 22 Palestinians arrested overnight in raids in East Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Israeli police on Wednesday arrested a senior Palestinian official after recent scuffles at a highly sensitive holy site in Jerusalem, officials said.

The Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, was among 22 Palestinians arrested overnight in raids in East Jerusalem, official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

Police spoke of two arrests, including “a senior official from the Palestinian Authority,” over suspicions of fraud and forgery.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP they were also arrested in connection with “recent incidents” at the Haram Al-Sharif, or Holy Sanctuary, which includes the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock.

The suspects were being questioned, Rosenfeld said, without providing further details.

The arrests risked further raising tensions surrounding the site holy to both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.

There have recently been scuffles between worshippers and police there over access to a side building in the compound closed by Israel since 2003.

Arguing there was no longer any reason for it to remain closed, Palestinian officials reopened the building on Friday and worshippers prayed inside despite an Israeli order barring access.

The building is known as the Golden Gate or Gate of Mercy in Arabic.

On Sunday, police arrested and later released a top Palestinian Muslim official, Abdel Azeem Salhab, and his deputy after the holy site incidents.

Salhab is the head of the council of the Waqf in Jerusalem, the religious authority that governs the site in the disputed city.

The arrest drew condemnation from Jordan, the custodian of the holy compound. The site is the third-holiest in Islam and a focus of Palestinian aspirations for statehood. It is also the location of Judaism’s most holy spot, revered as the site of the two biblical-era Jewish temples.

It is a frequent scene of conflict between the two sides.

Palestinians fear Israel will seek to assert further control over it, while Israel accuses Palestinians of using such claims as a rallying cry to incite violence.

Access to Golden Gate was closed by an Israeli court order in 2003 during the second Palestinian intifada over alleged militant activity there, police say. Waqf officials argue that the organization that prompted the ban no longer exists.

The site is located in East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognized by the international community.

Palestinian Authority activities are barred from Jerusalem by Israel.

As a result, the PA has a Jerusalem governor located in Al-Ram, just on the other side of Israel’s separation wall from the city in the occupied West Bank.


Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

Updated 49 min 52 sec ago

Change needed in Lebanon after Beirut blast, says German foreign minister

  • Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross
  • It is part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany

BEIRUT: Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government that can fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has triggered protests and led the government to resign.
Last week’s blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material for years killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
“It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments. It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.”
“Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country. They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance. Whoever takes over responsibility in Lebanon has a lot to do.”
Maas gave a check for over 1 million euro to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
International humanitarian assistance has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not write blank cheques to a state viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt. Donors are seeking enactment of long-demanded reforms in return for financial assistance to pull Lebanon from economic meltdown.
The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has plunged Lebanon into deeper uncertainty. Its talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already been put on hold over a row between the government, banks and politicians about the scale of vast financial losses.
Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese expressed their frustration at the state for abandoning them in their desperate efforts to rebuild homes and businesses wrecked in the blast.
“Who knows what will happen. How will we get back to business,” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast. Five employees were wounded.
“We in Lebanon are used to the government not doing anything.”
Unrest has erupted with Lebanese calling for the wholesale removal of a ruling class they brand as responsible for the country’s woes. The financial crisis has ravaged the currency, paralyzed banks and sent prices soaring.
Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay, given the depths of the financial crisis that has seen people frozen out of their savings accounts since October amid dollar scarcity.
The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and that it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said that so far local authorities had only give him a compensation sheet to fill out. He does not know if the bank will provide financial assistance because he already has a car loan.
“Everything is gone,” he said. “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
President Michel Aoun has promised a swift and transparent investigation into the blast at a warehouse where authorities say more than 2,000 tons of ammonium nitrate was stored for years without safety measures. He has said the probe would look into whether it was negligence, an accident or external factors.
Reuters reported that Aoun and Diab were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the warning letter.
An emergency donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief.
Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighborhoods more than a week after the blast. Rows of destroyed cars were still parked in front of damaged stores and demolished buildings.
Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment. He was saved by a wooden door that protected him from flying debris. A stove injured his wife.
His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to capital controls prompted by the economic crisis.
“Where is the government,” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.