Israel bars visit by US Democratic lawmakers Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib

Ilhan Omar, left, and Rashida Tlaib, are supporters of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. (AP/File photo)
Updated 15 August 2019

Israel bars visit by US Democratic lawmakers Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib

  • Both back pro-Palestinian movement to boycott Israel
  • Trump had urged Israel to bar visit

JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON: Israel will bar a visit by two of its sharpest critics in the US Congress, Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who planned to tour the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the country’s deputy foreign minister said on Thursday.
“The decision has been made, the decision is not to allow them to enter,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s Reshet Bet Radio.
Omar said Israel's move to block her and Tlaib from visiting the country is "an insult to democratic values."
Omar said in a prepared statement that Israel's move Thursday is the equivalent of US President Donald Trump's effort to block travel to the US from Muslim-dominated countries. And she says denying entry "not only limits our ability to learn from Israelis, but also to enter the Palestinian territories."
The Minnesota Democrat says the move isn't a surprise given that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump."
Trump had earlier urged Israel on Thursday not to allow the visit by Tlaib and Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and members of the Democratic party’s progressive wing.

The pair have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Under Israeli law, backers of the BDS movement can be denied entry to Israel.
Trump has vented in recent months against Omar, Tlaib and two other Democratic congresswomen of color, accusing them of hostility to Israel in what has widely been seen as a drumming up of Republican votes for his 2020 reelection bid.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit,” he tweeted on Thursday. “They are a disgrace!“
No date had been formally announced for the congresswomen’s trip, but sources familiar with the planned visit said it could begin at the weekend.
Israel’s ambassador in the United States, Ron Dermer, said last month Tlaib and Omar would be let in, out of respect for the US Congress and the US-Israeli relationship.
Political commentators said a reversal of Israel’s original intention to approve the legislators’ entry likely stemmed from a desire to mirror Trump’s hard line against them.
An Israeli official said earlier on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior members of his cabinet held consultations on Wednesday on a “final decision” about the visit.
Denying entry to elected US officials could further strain relations between Netanyahu, who has highlighted his close ties with Trump in his current re-election campaign, and the Democratic leadership in Congress.
HOLY SITE
A planned tour by the two lawmakers of the holy compound in Jerusalem that houses Al-Aqsa mosque, and which is revered by Jews as the site of two biblical Jewish temples, turned into an issue of contention, according to sources familiar with preparations for the visit.
The flashpoint site is in an area of Jerusalem that Israel captured along with the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally.
An official in Israel’s internal security ministry said any visit by Tlaib and Omar to the complex, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, would require Israeli security protection.
Violence erupted there on Sunday between Israeli police and Palestinians amid tensions over visits by Jewish pilgrims on a day when the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha and the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av overlapped.
Tlaib, 43, who was born in the United States, draws her roots to the Palestinian village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa in the West Bank. Her grandmother and extended family live in the village.
Omar, who immigrated to the United States from Somalia as a child, represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.
In February, Omar, 37, apologized after Democratic leaders condemned remarks she made about the pro-Israel lobby in the United States as using anti-Semitic stereotypes.


Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

Updated 19 November 2019

Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

  • Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs shut key bridges in Baghdad
  • The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges connect both sides of the city by passing over the river

BAGHDAD: Anti-government protesters blocked access to a second major commercial port in southern Iraq on Tuesday, as bridge closures effectively split the capital in half, causing citizens to rely on boats for transport to reach the other side of the city.
Since anti-government protests began Oct. 1, at least 320 people have been killed and thousands wounded in Baghdad and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over what they say is widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, despite the country’s oil wealth.
Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun guns to repel protesters, tactics that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday would be punished with sanctions.
“We will not stand idle while the corrupt officials make the Iraqi people suffer. Today, I am affirming the United States will use our legal authorities to sanction corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis’ wealth and those killing and wounding peaceful protesters,” he said in remarks to reporters in Washington.
“Like the Iraqi people taking to the streets today, our sanctions will not discriminate between religious sect or ethnicity,” he added. “They will simply target those who do wrong to the Iraqi people, no matter who they are.”
Over a dozen protesters blocked the main entrance to Khor Al-Zubair port, halting trade activity as oil tankers and other trucks carrying goods were unable to enter or exit. The port imports commercial goods and materials as well as refined oil products.
Crude from Qayara oil field in Ninewa province, in northern Iraq, is also exported from the port.
Khor Al-Zubair is the second largest port in the country. Protesters had burned tires and cut access to the main Gulf commercial port in Umm Qasr on Monday and continued to block roads Tuesday.
Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs between demonstrators and Iraqi security forces on three key bridges has shut main thoroughfares connecting east and west Baghdad.
The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges, which have been partially occupied by protesters following days of deadly clashes, connect both sides of the city by passing over the Tigris River. The blockages have left Iraqis who must make the daily commute for work, school and other day-to-day activities with no choice but to rely on river boats.
“After the bridges were cut, all the pressure is on us here,” said Hasan Lilo, a boat owner in the capital. “We offer a reasonable transportation means that helps the people.”