US scraps West Bank conference over Palestinian protests

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US Embassy in Jerusalem. The embassy was forced to postpone a conference it organized in Ramallah after Palestinian officials and factions called for a boycott and threatened to organize mass protests. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 19 August 2019

US scraps West Bank conference over Palestinian protests

  • Palestinians cut all ties with US after it recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017
  • The embassy had organized a conference this week to bring together alumni of US educational and cultural programs

RAMALLAH: The US Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday was forced to postpone a conference it organized in the West Bank city of Ramallah after Palestinian officials and factions called for a boycott and threatened to organize protests.
The Palestinians cut all ties with the US after it recognized disputed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017, and view the Trump administration as unfairly biased following a series of actions seen as hostile to their aspirations for an independent state.
The embassy had organized a conference this week to bring together alumni of US educational and cultural programs, including dozens of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who received permission from Israel to attend.
The territory has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power there in 2007.
The Palestinian leadership viewed the conference as an attempt to circumvent its boycott of the US administration.
“We are aware of recent statements regarding a planned event for alumni of US educational and cultural programs,” the US Embassy said. “In order to avoid the Palestinian participants being put in a difficult situation, we have decided to postpone the event for now.”
It said this and other events “are designed to create opportunities for exchange and dialogue between Americans and Palestinians at the grassroots level.”
“This event in particular is intended to give alumni of all ages and backgrounds from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza an opportunity to network with each other and to engage in leadership and capacity building activities,” it said.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East War, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. The Trump administration is at work on a long-awaited peace plan, but has not endorsed a two-state solution to the conflict. The Palestinians have already dismissed the plan, saying it is certain to be slanted toward Israel.
Representatives of several Palestinian factions held a press conference Monday at the hotel where the meeting was to have taken place.
Spokesman Isam Baker told The Associated Press that the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella group, had reached out to the hotel management and the invitees asking them to boycott the meeting.
“Most of the invitees and the hotel administration agreed with us that the invitation has political implications and it is not innocent,” he said.
“The US administration, which has cut off all aid to our people, shut down our office in Washington and placed huge pressure on our leadership to accept a pro-Israel political plan will not do any good for our people,” he said. “Therefore, we are boycotting any activities it organizes.”
The US cut more than $200 million in development aid to the Palestinians last year, gutting several long-running programs .
A statement released Sunday by the “national and Islamic forces of the Ramallah governorate” said they were determined to thwart the conference, calling it an attempt to “break the will of the Palestinian people.” It said they planned to organize a “mass popular event to prevent this activity by all available means,” calling for a sit-in and marches.
The youth wing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party also called for a boycott. It vowed to “exercise all forms of legal and popular pressure to express rejection of this conference being held on occupied Palestinian land.”
It also called for an “apology” from the hotel.


US Military: Russia has deployed military aircraft to Libya

Updated 26 May 2020

US Military: Russia has deployed military aircraft to Libya

  • Libya has been gripped by violence since Qaddafi was overthrown in 2011

LONDON: The US military said Tuesday that Russia has recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya.

The jets are likely to be providing air support for the Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor operating in Libya, the US Africa Command said.

The statement also said Moscow has employed the state-sponsored contractor in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford Moscow “plausible deniability” of its actions.

US Army General Stephen Townsend, commander of the US’ Africa mission, said: “Just like I saw (Russia) doing in Syria, they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner.”

The statement warned that Russian presence in Libya could “exacerbate the regional instability that has driven the migration crisis affecting Europe.”

Libya has been gripped by chaos since longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi was ousted and killed in 2011, with rival administrations in the east and west vying for power.

In April, the UN-recognised Government of National Accord rejected a truce unilaterally proposed by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), saying it “did not trust” them.

The LNA is led by the commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched an offensive to capture the capital Tripoli last year.

His forces have suffered a series of setbacks in recent months as Turkey stepped up support for for the Government of National Accord and the militias that support it.