Palestinian President Abbas calls for renewed peace negotiations with Israel

Palestinian President Abbas calls for renewed peace negotiations with Israel
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the 74th United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations on September 26, 2019 in New York City. Abbas renewed his pledge to hold parliamentary elections once he returns home, though he has made similar pledges in recent years. Palestinians last held elections in 2006. (UNGA photo)
Updated 27 September 2019

Palestinian President Abbas calls for renewed peace negotiations with Israel

Palestinian President Abbas calls for renewed peace negotiations with Israel
  • Condemns recent attacks against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia
  • ‘We stand with the Kingdom and we support its decisions and position’

NEW YORK: A defiant Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly on Thursday that Palestine stands ready to negotiate for peace, despite a wave of racism and discriminatory apartheid policies from Israel’s government.

In a separate press briefing, meanwhile, Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi brushed aside concerns of “a chill” between Jordan and Israel on the 25th anniversary of the peace agreement between the two countries. However, he restated his concerns about Israel’s actions and said the bilateral agreement is only one part of a comprehensive peace accord that has yet to be signed and must include Palestine.

In his address, Abbas accused Israel of grave breaches of international law and warned that unilateral actions such as the call to annex the West Bank area of the Jordan Valley could have dire consequences.

“It is our right to defend our rights by all possible means, regardless of consequences, while remaining committed to international law and combating terrorism,” Abbas said during a 26-minute speech in Arabic that was interrupted numerous times by applause from General Assembly delegates.

“Our hands will remain extended for peace through negotiations…anything else will be null and void if Israel or any Israeli government led by (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, or any other Israeli leader, will follow this plan he announced…of annexation.”

Abbas, who was accompanied by Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, negotiator Saed Erakat and advisers from Palestine’s UN mission, said that when he returns home he will seek to kick-start elections on a local level, in the West Bank, occupied Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip, where he accused Hamas of seeking to undermine his government.

Only about 20 percent of General Assembly delegates were in the chamber on Thursday before the Palestinian president gave his speech, but many more took their seats when he was introduced and the chamber was more than half full when he spoke. Delegates from Israel and the US were present but not their ambassadors.

Abbas cited the widespread support Palestine receives from the majority of the UN General Assembly before criticizing the US indirectly for imposing unilateral decisions on the status of occupied Palestinian lands, and calling on the UN to grant Palestine “full member status.” It was granted non-member observer state status in 2012.

“Palestine is a state party to 110 international instruments and organizations,” he said. “Palestine has received the recognition of 140 states from around the world. It is chairing the Group of 77 in China.

“Palestine continues to assume its responsibilities…Palestine deserves to be a full member of the UN…After all we have suffered, we deserve to be a full member. Give me just one reason why we do not deserve to be a full member of the UN?”

Abbas gave details of Israel’s continued violations of international law, and of bullying by withholding funds collected from Palestinian workers and blocking international aid.

“In Jerusalem, the occupying power is waging a reckless, racist war against everything that is Palestinian, from the confiscation, the demolition of homes, to the assaults on clergymen, to the eviction of our citizens from their homes, to attempts to violate the sanctity of the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulchre, to the legislation of racist laws,” he said.

“Similar laws (to Apartheid) in Israel discriminate against people based on their nationality and their race, and the world remains silent. They deny worshipers access to the holy places, which will lead to dangerous, unfathomable consequences. The results will be a religious war. We want to avoid such a war but Israel is making every effort to reach and wage such a war.”

After stating his firm support for the two-state solution, Abbas mildly ridiculed US President Donald Trump, indirectly, by mocking his much-hyped “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace and the favoritism shown by the Trump administration toward Israel.

“It speaks to the so-called ‘deal of the century’ and peddles elusive solutions…it destroyed all possibilities to achieve is rejected,” he added to lengthy applause.

Abbas said the US president’s actions have “jeopardized” the two-state solution. The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and moved the US Embassy there in May the following year. It also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid to the Palestinians, blaming the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to participate in the administration’s peace initiative

“This US policy has emboldened the government of the Israeli occupation to renege all signed agreements with us and its commitments to peace, depriving the peace process of any credibility and pushing large segments of the Palestinian people to lose hope in the possibility of a long-awaited peace. It has jeopardized the two-state solution,” Abbas said. “Now, many wonder if the two-state solution has become impossible. Can we have a one-state solution where everyone can live equally? Some are starting to wonder.”

He added: “I will not accept a one-state solution. I will not accept apartheid. We want a two-state solution based on international legitimacy.”

Abbas also renewed the call for an international peace conference.

“We have never missed an opportunity to hold serious negotiations with the Israeli side,” he said. “We have constructively engaged with all initiatives. They say Palestine does not want peace or negotiations but we say we extend our hands to peace because peace will only be able to be achieved through negotiations and negotiations alone.

“But has Netanyahu ever agreed to negotiations behind closed doors on a bilateral basis, a multilateral basis? He never accepted any negotiations. We have both received several invitations from several countries to meet and start the negotiation process. He has rejected that.”

Abbas went on to denounce terrorism and political violence, specifically referencing the recent attacks on two oil fields in Saudi Arabia that have provoked an international confrontation with Iran.

“We affirm our firm position and condemnation against terrorism,” he said. “We always say we can relinquish anything, but we will never relinquish our fight against terrorism. We have adopted a protocol alongside more than 80 countries to combat terrorism around the world.

“We condemn the recent attacks against the oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. We stand with the Kingdom and we support its decisions and position.”

Jordanian Foreign Minister Safadi echoed many of points made by Abbas and said Jordan has been encouraged by the announcement by many UN members that they will recommit to funding the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees. He added that political rhetoric from candidates during the recent Israeli campaign that they will annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank has caused great concern in Jordan.

“The path to a solution is clear,” he said. “Comprehensive peace is a strategic Arab choice. We want a peace to be lasting and to be comprehensive and it has to address the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

“We have a peace treaty with Israel…but statements about plans to annex a third of the West Bank will affect the treaty. We are committed to our peace treaty. We are committed to peace. Our region does not need more conflict and more crisis. We remain committed but what we need to look at is the overall picture. The overall picture has not been very promising.

“How do we go forward? How do we create hope? How do we create credible and serious negotiations for the two-state solution? … Lack of progress on the Palestinian front affects all of this. We are committed to peace but peace has to be comprehensive.”

Several heads of state talked at the UN about the need to recognize Palestine and pursue a two-state solution, including Bulgarian President Rumen Radev. He also denounced the rise in antisemitism and proudly described how his country resisted the Nazi persecution of Jews during World War II.

Tunisia’s president says there is ‘no turning back’

Tunisia’s president says there is ‘no turning back’
Updated 05 August 2021

Tunisia’s president says there is ‘no turning back’

Tunisia’s president says there is ‘no turning back’
  • Some 11 days after his intervention, Saied has not named a new PM, announced any steps to end the emergency
  • The labor union is preparing a roadmap to end the crisis that it says it will present to Saied

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said on Thursday there was “no turning back” from his decision to freeze parliament and assume executive power, moves his opponents have branded a coup.
Speaking in a video published by his office, Saied also rejected calls for talks over the crisis, saying “there is no dialogue except with the honest” and that no dialogue was possible with “cancer cells.”
The biggest party in parliament, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, which has been the most vocal opponent of Saied’s moves, had called for dialogue in a statement earlier on Thursday.
Some 11 days after his intervention, Saied has not named a new prime minister, announced any steps to end the emergency or declared his longer-term intentions.
The powerful labor union, as well as both the United States and France, have called on him to quickly appoint a new government. The union is preparing a roadmap to end the crisis that it says it will present to Saied.
US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and ranking member Jim Risch said on Thursday they were deeply concerned by the situation.
“President Saied must recommit to the democratic principles that underpin US-Tunisia relations, and the military must observe its role in a constitutional democracy,” they said in a joint statement.
Ousted Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi appeared in public for the first time on Thursday since he was dismissed. He was shown in pictures published by the anti-corruption watchdog that it said were taken on Thursday at its office.

Amnesty International denounces Iran’s ‘cruel’ secret execution of man arrested at 15

Amnesty International denounces Iran’s ‘cruel’ secret execution of man arrested at 15
Updated 05 August 2021

Amnesty International denounces Iran’s ‘cruel’ secret execution of man arrested at 15

Amnesty International denounces Iran’s ‘cruel’ secret execution of man arrested at 15
  • Sanjari was executed in secret after he was convicted in 2012 for killing a man he said was trying to rape him
  • Amnesty highlighted the plight of others awaiting execution in Iran for crimes committed when they were children

LONDON: The execution in Iran of a man arrested at 15 is a “cruel assault on child rights,” Amnesty International said on Thursday, which also warned of more imminent executions.

In August 2010, Sajad Sanjari — then 15 — was arrested over the fatal stabbing of a man. He said the man had tried to rape him and claimed he had acted in self-defense, but in 2012 he was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. 

Sanjari was executed in secret on Monday, but his family was only told of the killing after it happened when a prison official asked them to collect the body.

“With the secret execution of Sajad Sanjari, the Iranian authorities have yet again demonstrated the utter cruelty of their juvenile justice system,” Diana Eltahawy, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said.

“The use of the death penalty against people who were under 18 at the time of the crime is absolutely prohibited under international law and constitutes a cruel assault on child rights.

Eltahawy added: “The fact that Sajad Sanjari was executed in secret, denying him and his family even the chance to say goodbye, consolidates an alarming pattern of the Iranian authorities carrying out executions in secret or at short notice to minimize the chances of public and private interventions to save people’s lives.”

The rights group also warned that two other young men, Hossein Shahbazi and Arman Abdolali — both 17 when arrested — are now at risk of “imminent” execution.

“Their trials were marred by serious violations, including the use of torture-tainted ‘confessions,’” said Amnesty International, which pointed out that Shahbazi would already be dead if it had not been for international outcry in the lead up to his planned execution in July that convinced authorities to postpone the killing.

“His execution could be rescheduled at any moment,” the rights group warned.

Amnesty said it had identified 80 people in Iran currently on death row for crimes committed when they were children, and since 2005, it recorded the executions of “at least 95 individuals” who were children when they committed their crime.

“The real numbers of those at risk and executed are likely to be higher,” Amnesty said.

The rights group also highlighted the unequal laws dictating how girls and boys are treated by the judicial system: “in cases of murder and certain other capital crimes, boys aged above 15 lunar years and girls aged above nine lunar years may be held as culpable as adults.”

As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran is legally obliged to treat individuals under the age of 18 as children and ensure they are never subjected to the death penalty or life imprisonment.

University professor shot dead in Houthi-held Sanaa

University professor shot dead in Houthi-held Sanaa
Updated 06 August 2021

University professor shot dead in Houthi-held Sanaa

University professor shot dead in Houthi-held Sanaa
  • Mohammed Ali Naeem was gunned down just hours after criticizing the Houthis and Yemen government on social media
  • It was the latest in a series of drive-by shootings presumably carried out by senior Houthi officials against dissidents and other opponents

ALEXANDRIA: Gunmen shot and killed a Sana’a University professor as he walked out of a friend’s house on Wednesday night in a Houthi-controlled part of the city, residents said.

Mohammed Ali Naeem, who worked in the school’s engineering and architecture department, was pronounced dead at a local hospital following the attack on Tunisia Street in Sana’a.

The assassination was carried out a few hours after he wrote a post on social media demanding the Houthis and the Yemeni government increase the salaries for employees.

After he complained about the depreciation of the Yemeni riyal and the increased price of essential commodities, the Yemeni professor wrote on Facebook: “We demand the government of Sana’a and Aden increase salaries.”

In another post on Wednesday, he wrote: “The revolution is still going on.”

Public servants in Sana’a and other Houthi-held areas in Yemen have not received employment compensation since late 2016 when the Iran-backed rebels stopped paying salaries in response to the Yemen president’s relocation of the central bank headquarters from Sana’a to Aden.

The killing is the latest in a series of drive-by shootings presumably carried out by senior Houthi officials against dissidents and other opponents. Last year, gunmen assassinated Hassan Zaid, minister of sports and youth in the Houthi cabinet.

Citing the Houthis’ handling of the Zaid case, similar assassinations, and the proliferation of armed men in Sanaa, Yemeni activists and critics of the rebels quickly blamed the Houthis on Wednesday for killing the professor.

Sami Noaman, a Yemeni journalist and former Houthi prisoner, told Arab News the rebels are suspected of killing their opponents and critics while only Houthi supporters are given special treatment.

“No one can freely roam around Sana’a carrying weapons other than the Houthi movement’s supporters,” Noaman said.

More evidence that suggests the Houthis’ involvement in the Naeem murder is their handling of the Zaid investigation. In that case, the rebels quickly announced capturing perpetrators in the province of Dhamar, and then the investigation was over.

“In a comical scene, they closed the file within 24 hours,” Noaman said. “The alleged killer was a prisoner. They executed people who had nothing to do with the case.”

Other critics of the Houthis urged the rebels to focus on capturing and prosecuting armed assailants in Sana’a, instead of incarcerating Yemeni activists, artists, actors, and women.

Ahmed Al-Khibi, a judge in Yemen, said the Houthis should be alarmed by the resurgence of assassinations in the country’s capital and divert efforts and attention to securing areas under their control.

“We hold the (Houthi) authority and its security services that are preoccupied with pursuing (women’s) undergarment and artists fully responsible for this crime” and it is their responsibility to arrest the perpetrators and bring them to justice, Al-Khibi posted on Facebook. He was referring to the recent Houthi crackdown against women, singers, and actors who have been arrested for allegedly violating Islamic norms.

Dozens of Sana’a University students took to social media on Wednesday night to mourn the late professor. Students described Naeem as a “noble” man and an outstanding lecturer.

“No words can describe the extent of the tragedy and sadness of your death,” Ghadir Yahya, a former student, wrote on Facebook.

US urges Raisi to resume Iran nuclear talks in Vienna ‘soon’

US urges Raisi to resume Iran nuclear talks in Vienna ‘soon’
Updated 05 August 2021

US urges Raisi to resume Iran nuclear talks in Vienna ‘soon’

US urges Raisi to resume Iran nuclear talks in Vienna ‘soon’
  • Ned Price says ‘this process cannot go on indefinitely’
  • President Ebrahim Raisi was sworn in earlier on Thursday

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday urged Iran to return to talks quickly on reviving a nuclear deal after the new ultraconservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, said he would seek a diplomatic way to end sanctions.
“We urge Iran to return to the negotiations soon so that we can seek to conclude our work,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, repeating the US stance that the window for diplomacy would not stay open forever.
“If President Raisi is genuine in his determination to see the sanctions lifted, well that is precisely what’s on the table in Vienna,” he said.
With the rise of Raisi, who took the oath of office on Thursday, all branches of power within the Islamic Republic will be controlled by anti-Western hard-liners loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Our message to President Raisi is the same as our message to his predecessors .. the US will defend and advance our national security interests and those of our partners,” Price said. “We hope that Iran seizes the opportunity now to advance diplomatic solutions.”
He was referring to months of fruitless indirect talks in the Austrian capital on reviving the 2015 nuclear accord trashed by former president Donald Trump.
Iran has been negotiating with six major powers to revive the deal that was abandoned three years ago. The last round of talks in Vienna ended on June 20.
Price reiterated that the Biden administration, despite concerns with Iran, saw the accord as key to securing “permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program.”
Price said that the proposal to end sweeping sanctions in return for compliance with the deal would not last “indefinitely” and at some point the benefits of reviving the agreement will have been eroded by the advancements of Iran’s nuclear program.
“For us, this is an urgent priority, knowing the issues that are at play,” Price said. “We hope that the Iranians treat it with the same degree of urgency.”
Iran began violating the pact, which gave it sanctions relief in return for curbing its atomic program, in 2019 by conducting nuclear activities that were barred under the deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. 
(With AFP and Reuters)

Iranian ex-deputy vice president slams regime over water crisis

Iranian ex-deputy vice president slams regime over water crisis
Updated 05 August 2021

Iranian ex-deputy vice president slams regime over water crisis

Iranian ex-deputy vice president slams regime over water crisis
  • Kaveh Madani: “Local decision-makers are liable for avoidable failures of environmental management”
  • In July, Iran was convulsed by protests in Arab-majority Khuzestan province sparked by lack of clean water

LONDON: The former deputy vice-president of Iran criticized Tehran over its mismanagement of natural resources in the country’s Khuzestan province, blaming “excessive manipulation of the natural environment” for the country’s water bankruptcy.

In an op-ed published in The Guardian newspaper, Kaveh Madani said attempts by authorities to shift the blame toward climate change as the “sole cause of terrible (water) shortages let those in authority off the hook.”

Late last month, Iran’s Khuzestan province became the focal point for weeks of violent unrest spurred by a drought that left people without clean and safe drinking water. Those protests quickly spread across the country, including to the capital Tehran, morphing into anti-regime demonstrations.

Madani explained that water-rich Khuzestan should never have been subject to drought, but the construction of huge dams and the transfer of the province’s water to other parts of the country have left it in a state of water bankruptcy. 

“Once you drain your checking account (surface water) and exhaust your savings account (groundwater), you are left with a lot of creditors (water rights-holders) whose demands cannot be satisfied,” Madani said. “Then you are water bankrupt and the dissatisfaction of the claimants can trigger major conflicts.”

He also said that this may be related to the institutional racism in Iran that excludes ethnic Ahwazi Arabs from the majority Persian state.

“The Khuzestan protests also have an important social justice element. Ethnic Arab populations are expressing their serious frustration with what they consider a ‘systematic’ or ‘intentional’ discrimination that has resulted in underdevelopment in their rich province,” Madani said.

“Khuzestanis are also questioning why ‘their’ water must be transferred to other regions while they are suffering from thirst.”

Madani warned about the potential consequences of water mismanagement for years, but rather than being listened to he was spied upon and detained.

“What Khuzestan and the rest of Iran are experiencing today is not unexpected,” Madani said. “Lots of experts, including me, have been warning about the national security risks of this situation for years.”

While he served in his role as deputy vice president, Madani was regularly detained by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and after he fled the country, he said he felt “lucky” not to have been imprisoned for a longer stretch. 

Now, he is trying to prevent the regime from deflecting responsibility for its actions by invoking global climate change.

Well-intentioned environmental campaigners are correct about the devastating consequences of climate change, Madani said.

But the way that Iran has managed its natural resources means that “even if climate change stopped and Iran cut its carbon emissions by 100 percent right now, its water bankruptcy and many other environmental problems would not be solved immediately.” 

He concluded: “We must remember that local decision-makers are liable for avoidable failures of environmental management that result in the degradation and suffering we are now seeing in Iran.”