UN envoy warns West Bank, Gaza violence threatens region

UN envoy warns West Bank, Gaza violence threatens region
Nickolay Mladenov (on screen), Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, addresses the UN Security Council as it considers the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. (File/SC Chamber/AFP)
Updated 27 August 2019

UN envoy warns West Bank, Gaza violence threatens region

UN envoy warns West Bank, Gaza violence threatens region
  • Violence has increased in the past month
  • The UN called on leaders to resolve Palestinian-Israeli conflict

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Mideast envoy is warning of increased violence in the West Bank and Gaza “and the threat of a regional escalation.”
Nickolay Mladenov pointed to an increase of violent incidents in the past month, including West Bank settler-related violence and continuing tensions in and around Gaza.
He told the Security Council on Tuesday that violence is taking place “against the backdrop of the complete political deadlock of the Middle East peace process and the lack of any perspective to revive it.”
Mladenov said he and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have repeatedly warned that lack of political will and leadership to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of a two-state solution coupled with unilateral acts, including settlement building, extremist attacks, and other factors “create an explosive mix.”


UN chief: Foreign fighters in Libya are violating ceasefire

UN chief: Foreign fighters in Libya are violating ceasefire
Updated 16 May 2021

UN chief: Foreign fighters in Libya are violating ceasefire

UN chief: Foreign fighters in Libya are violating ceasefire
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said progress must continue on the political, economic and security tracks in Libya to enable elections to go ahead on Dec. 24

NEW YORK: The UN chief said foreign fighters and mercenaries remain in Libya in violation of last October’s ceasefire agreement and called for their withdrawal and an end to violations of the UN arms embargo, saying these are “critical elements” for lasting peace in the north African country and the region.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the UN Security Council obtained by The Associated Press that the smooth transfer of power to a new interim government, which took power in March, “brings renewed hope for the reunification of the country and its institutions and for a lasting peace.”

But he said progress must continue on the political, economic and security tracks to enable elections to go ahead on Dec. 24.

Libya has been wracked by chaos since a NATO-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, and split the North African country between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

In April 2019, east-based commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. 

His 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the UN-backed regime with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries. An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand for all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on the transitional government and December elections.

The UN estimated in December that there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese and Chadians. But at an informal council meeting in late April, speakers said there were more than 20,000, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, according to diplomats.

Guterres said in the new report that while the ceasefire continues to hold, the UN political mission in Libya has received reports of fortifications and defensive positions being set up in central Libya on the key route between the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to the country’s major oil fields and export terminals, and Jufra.

“Despite the commitments made by the parties, air cargo activities reportedly continued with flights to various air bases in Libya’s western and eastern regions,” the secretary-general said. “Reports indicated that there was no reduction of foreign fighters or of their activities in central Libya.”

Guterres said the Government of National Unity must prioritize security sector reform including filling senior civilian and military appointments, producing a roadmap for reunifying the Libyan army, and addressing the proliferation of armed groups.

“Bringing one of the world’s largest uncontrolled stocks of arms and ammunition under state control is vital,” he said. 

“I reiterate my call on member states and Libyan national actors to put an end to violations of the arms embargo and to facilitate the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the country.”

Last month, the Security Council approved a resolution urging all foreign forces and mercenaries to leave Libya and authorizing a small UN team to monitor the cease-fire agreement. In an April 7 letter to the council, Guterres proposed an initial maximum of 60 monitors for a phased deployment as part of the UN mission, known as UNSMIL.

In his new report, Guterres said that the monitors’ deployment to Libya is contingent on the UN General Assembly approving the resources to cover security, logistical, medical and operational requirements, which will be submitted “in the near future.”

He also raised human rights violations, especially the continuing detention of migrants and refugees. 

According to the International Organization for Migration’s most recent report, there are more than 571,000 migrants in Libya. And as of May 2, Guterres said over 4,300 migrants and refugees were being held in detention centers across the country.

Guterres called on Libyan authorities to release migrants and refugees from detention centers “on an urgent basis,” and put in place measures to protect them from sexual violence.


Global protests held in support of Palestinians

Global protests held in support of Palestinians
Updated 16 May 2021

Global protests held in support of Palestinians

Global protests held in support of Palestinians
  • Demos in France, UK, Spain, Australia, Iraq demand end to ‘genocide’

PARIS: Police officers used tear gas and water cannons in Paris on Saturday to try and disperse a pro-Palestinian rally held despite a ban by authorities, who fear a flare-up of anti-Semitic violence during the worst fighting between Israel and Hamas in years.

Thousands of people converged in the heavily immigrant Barbes neighborhood in the north of the capital, defying orders issued by loudspeakers that the march was illegal.

Officers blocked off wide boulevards as well as narrow streets where some of the protesters were forced to retreat, while knots of residents and passersby watched or recorded the scene with their phones.

Some threw stones or tried to set up roadblocks with construction barriers, but for the most part police pursued groups across the district while preventing any march toward the Place de la Bastille as planned.

“You want to prohibit me from showing solidarity with my people, even as my village is being bombed?” Mohammed, 23 and wearing a “Free Palestine” T-shirt, said.

The march was banned on Thursday over concerns of a repeat of fierce clashes that erupted at a similar Paris march during the last war in 2014, when protesters took aim at synagogues and other Israeli and Jewish targets.

“We all remember that extremely troubling protest where terrible phrases like ‘death to Jews’ were yelled,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo said, welcoming a “wise” decision to ban the march.

But Walid Atallah, president of the Association of Palestinians in Ile-de-France, the region encompassing Paris, accused the government of inflaming tensions with the ban.

“If there were genuine risks of public disorder, of serious problems, they would have prohibited it right away,” he told a press conference ahead of the march.

“They banned it at the last minute — it’s unacceptable,” he said.

Similar protests in Germany and Denmark this week have degenerated into clashes leading to several arrests.

The protest had originally been called to mark the Nakba, as Palestinians call the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation in 1948, which turned hundreds of thousands into refugees.

But a Paris court upheld the ban Friday, saying the “international and domestic context” justified fears of unrest “that could be as serious or even worse than in 2014.”

Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin also called for similar bans in other cities if necessary, and officials prohibited marches in Nice, where around 150 people gathered nonetheless, and in some Paris suburbs.

“We don’t want scenes of violence, we don’t want to import a conflict onto French soil, we don’t want eruptions of hate on our streets,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Saturday in Marseille.

But no incidents were reported as thousands of people gathered for protests and marches in several other cities including Montpellier, Toulouse and Bordeaux.

The ban has caused a split among French politicians, with President Emmanuel Macron’s center-right party and the right-wing opposition supporting the move, but leftists calling it an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression.

Thousands of protesters in London and Madrid marched in support of Palestinians on Saturday.

In London, several thousand protesters carrying placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanting “Free Palestine” converged on Marble Arch, near the British capital’s Hyde Park, to march toward the Israeli Embassy.

In Madrid, some 2,500 people, many of them young people wrapped in Palestinian flags, marched to the Puerta del Sol plaza in the city center.

“This is not a war, it’s genocide,” They chanted.

“They are massacring us,” said Amira Sheikh-Ali, a 37-year-old of Palestinian origin.

“We’re in a situation when the Nakba is continuing in the middle of the 21st century,” she said.

“We want to ask Spain and the European authorities not to collaborate with Israel, because with their silence, they are collaborating,” said Ikhlass Abousousiane, a 25-year-old nurse of Moroccan origin.

In Sydney, protesters gathered at Town Hall to march through the streets, chanting slogans such as “Free, free Palestine” and “Free, free Gaza.”

“I see an uprising,” said one protester in Sydney, Walla Abu-Eid. “I see people who are no longer going to remain silent. People who are fed up, people who are responding to oppression and violence by standing up for themselves.”

In Melbourne, protesters gathered at the State Library of Victoria and then marched to Parliament House, many carrying “Free Palestine” posters.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in cities across Iraq to stand in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and Jerusalem.

The demonstrators on Saturday waved Palestinian flags and banners across five provinces in rallies called for by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr. Al-Sadr called on followers to take to the streets and support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Protesters gathered in Baghdad, and the southern provinces of Babylon, Dhi Qar, Diwanieh and Basra in a show of support. In Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, demonstrators carried a Palestinian flag several feet long. Many also held up photos of Al-Sadr.

Several thousand people marched in Sydney and hundreds in Melbourne on Saturday, protesting against Israeli attacks on Gaza.


Ethiopia says ‘destroyed’ force coming from Sudan

Ethiopia says ‘destroyed’ force coming from Sudan
Updated 16 May 2021

Ethiopia says ‘destroyed’ force coming from Sudan

Ethiopia says ‘destroyed’ force coming from Sudan
  • Tens of thousands of Tigray refugees have fled into Sudan, with whom Ethiopia is locked in multiple disputes over a contentious border zone

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s army said that a large group of fighters, allegedly members of the former ruling party of the conflict-torn Tigray region, had been “destroyed” attempting to enter the country from neighboring Sudan.

Brig. Gen. Tesfaye Ayalew told the state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate on Friday that a force of some 320 had tried to enter Ethiopia via the town of Humera in northern Tigray.

“Some of them perished by thirst on the road, a portion was captured, and those who refused to surrender were destroyed by the army,” he said.

Tigray was plunged into conflict in November last year when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops to oust the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated the country’s politics for decades.

While he promised a brief military campaign, fighting continues with no end in sight, with evidence of massacres, brutal sexual violence and fears of humanitarian catastrophe.

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled into Sudan, with whom Ethiopia is locked in multiple disputes over a contentious border zone, and the construction of a massive hydroelectric project on the Blue Nile.

Ayalew, referring to the force as the “junta,” which is how the Ethiopian government refers to the TPLF, said it was led by “US-based former Ethiopia defense forces officers who turned traitors and another group based in Khartoum.”

He alleged a military agreement “reveals the junta has been working secretly together with a few Sudanese leaders and army officers as well as Ethiopia’s enemies.”

He described the destruction of the force, details of which could not be independently confirmed by AFP, as “a big victory, for our army and our country.”

AFP has reached out to the Sudanese government, which was not immediately available for comment. Khartoum has previously denied accusations it is helping forces in Tigray.

“We are deeply concerned about increasing political and ethnic polarization throughout the country,” the State Department said Friday.

Ethiopia has again delayed its national election after some opposition parties said they would not take part and as conflict in

the Tigray region means no vote is being held there, further complicating the prime minister’s efforts to centralize power.

The head of the national elections board, Birtukan Mideksa, in a meeting with political parties’ representatives on Saturday said the June 5 vote in Africa’s second most populous country would be postponed until a yet-unknown date, citing the need to finish printing ballots, training staffers and compiling voters’ information.

The election board has said some 36.2 million people have registered to vote. It was hoped that up to 50 million would do so.

Ethiopia last year delayed the vote, the first major electoral test for Abiy, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. That heightened tensions with the Tigray region’s leaders, who declared that the prime minister’s mandate had ended and defiantly held a regional vote of their own that Ethiopia called illegal.

The prime minister, who introduced sweeping political reforms after taking office in 2018 and won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year, has repeatedly vowed that this election would be free and fair. Abiy will keep his post if his Prosperity Party wins a majority of seats in the national assembly.

But questions about the vote have been growing. 

The campaign director for one of Ethiopia’s largest opposition parties, Yilkal Getnet with the Hibir Ethiopia Democratic Party, said his party has long believed the country is not ready to hold an election at this time.

“There are lots of peace and security challenges across the country in addition to the border issue with Sudan,” Yilkal said, adding that the safety of millions is in question. 

“As opposed to the ruling party’s thinking, we don’t believe that the election will solve these problems. A national dialogue on a range of issues should come first.”


Warning against dragging Lebanon into ‘total chaos’ amid hopes for economic recovery

Warning against dragging Lebanon into ‘total chaos’ amid hopes for economic recovery
Updated 16 May 2021

Warning against dragging Lebanon into ‘total chaos’ amid hopes for economic recovery

Warning against dragging Lebanon into ‘total chaos’ amid hopes for economic recovery
  • Lebanese Army guard Israel border after man killed by Israeli bullets
  • Post-Eid total lockdown lifted after two days

BEIRUT: Political and economic figures have expressed their opposition to dragging Lebanon into a regional conflict amid the Palestine-Israel crisis and violent clashes.

The Vice President of the General Labor Confederation Hassan Fakih warned against “taking the country into total chaos that will wipe out what is left of Lebanon.”

His comments come as people returned on Saturday to queueing at gas stations and searching for missing medicines in pharmacies.

Sales of meat have dipped after the price of a kilogram of unsubsidized beef exceeded LBP120,000 ($80).

Fakih said that “matters in Lebanon have reached an unbearable level, as the economic situation has become a real threat to all classes of people.”

He added that the people “have crossed the poverty threshold as a result of the policies adopted by the political system that has been running the country for many years.”

The Lebanese economy is trying to recover from the double losses that it has incurred as a result of measures brought in to control the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the devastating economic situation.

Hopes have been raised for economic improvements following a remarkable decline in COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese Army on Saturday prevented non-Lebanese residents from crossing to the southern border area amid calls made by Palestinian factions to refugees to protest against the Israeli attacks in the occupied territories.

Hezbollah operatives in civilian clothes participated in the prevention measures in the border area, especially in points close to the Blue Line facing Israeli settlements, indicating that the party has no intention of escalating the situation in Lebanon.

These measures come the day after the killing of Lebanese citizen Mohammed Tahhan, 21, by an Israeli soldier.

One of the activists in the Tyre area who accompanied the protesters to the barbed fence told Arab News: “A group of protesters carrying Palestinian flags and Hezbollah banners tried to cross the barbed wire from the Lebanese side opposite the Mutla settlement on Friday.

“Tahhan stepped forward and broke an Israeli security camera. The Israelis fired at Tahhan, killing him with a bullet in the side.”

Hezbollah mourned Tahhan and participated in his funeral on Saturday in the southern town of Adloun and wrapped his body in the party’s banner.

However, the activist, who knows the Tahhan family, said: “The young man is a leftist and his family members are communists, and they face their plight with silence.”

There were unconfirmed reports that Hezbollah asked a Palestinian faction in Lebanon to claim responsibility for the launch of Grad rockets on Thursday night from southern Lebanon to occupied Palestine, but the faction refused.

On Saturday, the Lebanese Army ramped up security measures on the coastline leading to the south. The soldiers set up checkpoints and checked the identities of those traveling to the border area.

Only Lebanese citizens were allowed to cross, while non-Lebanese needed special permits.

The army closed all roads leading to the Marjayoun area, opposite the settlement of Mutla, in occupied Palestine.

Soldiers prevented four Palestinians who tried to infiltrate the barbed wire fence on Saturday.

Activist Ali al-Amin, who opposes Hezbollah, told Arab News: “The party does not tolerate any Israeli escalation toward Lebanon due to internal and regional conditions, and thus its options are limited.

“If it is true that the Palestinians rejected Hezbollah’s request to take responsibility for the rocket fire, this means that the party’s ability and influence to move the street in Lebanon has diminished. Hezbollah cannot make any mistakes because its cost in light of internal and regional developments is not yet clear.”

Israeli military spokesman Avichai Adraee justified the shooting at the Lebanese and Palestinian protesters and the killing of Tahhan.

The spokesman said: “The suspects acted in an orderly manner and left behind them suspected explosive devices and acted in a manner that revealed their intention to infiltrate into Israel and commit a sabotage operation in Israel.”

Adraee held Lebanon “responsible for what is happening inside Lebanon and anything that starts from it, and it will bear responsibility for any attempt to harm the citizens of Israel.”

Hussein Ezz El-Din, an activist from Tire, said hundreds of Palestinian youths “tried on Saturday to cross the main road to the border area, and some of them came from camps in the far north to protest in front of the border. But a security cordon formed by the army and other security elements affiliated with Hezbollah prevented crossing the street to the Blue Line.”

Ezz El-Din added: “The people in the southern border region are divided into two parts. A section is affiliated with the axis of resistance and is trying, through the events that are taking place, to look for a new victory.

“There is also an axis that is not affiliated with either Hezbollah or any other party, which is apprehensive and adheres to the national interest.”

He added: “Those who are not affiliated with any party have not answered the call to go to the borders to protest despite their full sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

“Some of them even believe that going to the Syrian borders to protest there against smuggling operations is more beneficial to Lebanon and its interests than going to the southern borders because it is nothing more than propaganda.”

While a cautious atmosphere prevailed on the southern border, Lebanon regained its near-normal life Saturday, in light of the lifting of the state of complete lockdown that lasted for two days due to the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.


Biden speaks to Netanyahu, Abbas after Israel flattens AP news office in Gaza

Biden speaks to Netanyahu, Abbas after Israel flattens AP news office in Gaza
Updated 15 May 2021

Biden speaks to Netanyahu, Abbas after Israel flattens AP news office in Gaza

Biden speaks to Netanyahu, Abbas after Israel flattens AP news office in Gaza
  • Abbas received an "important" phone call on Saturday from Biden
  • Netanyahu thanked Biden for the “unreserved support of the US for our right to defend ourselves”

DUBAI: President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have spoken about the situation with Gaza.
According to a statement from Netanyahu’s office, the Israeli leader updated Biden on the developments and actions that Israel has taken and intends to take. It says Netanyahu also thanked Biden for the “unreserved support of the United States for our right to defend ourselves.”
It says Netanyahu emphasized in the conversation that Israel is doing everything to avoid harming the uninvolved. The statement added “the proof of this is that in the towers where there are terrorist targets attacked by the IDF, they are evacuated from the uninvolved.”
The Biden-Netanyahu call came just hours after an Israeli airstrike on Saturday targeted and destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas received an “important” phone call on Saturday from Biden, Abbas's spokesman said, the first call between the two leaders since Biden took office in January.

Biden told Abbas the United States "is making efforts with the concerned parties to reach the goal" of reducing violence in the region, a summary of the call published by WAFA said.
He also said the United States opposes the eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah, the summary said, a case that helped ignite tension in the holy city and spark fighting between Israel and Gaza militants.