Egypt-Ethiopia tensions escalate over Nile mega-dam project

Egypt-Ethiopia tensions escalate over Nile mega-dam project
Construction at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, near Guba — a 145-meter-high, 1.8-kilometer-long concrete colossus set to become the largest hydropower plant in Africa. (AFP)
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Updated 07 March 2020

Egypt-Ethiopia tensions escalate over Nile mega-dam project

Egypt-Ethiopia tensions escalate over Nile mega-dam project
  • Addis Ababa skipped talks in Washington intended to produce a final agreement
  • Cairo has vowed to defend 'the interests, capabilities and future' of the people

CAIRO: The Grand Renaissance Dam, being built on the Nile river by Ethiopia, has become a matter of great concern in the North African region as tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt mount, with Sudan caught in between.

This follows a series of developments, most notably the refusal of the Ethiopian government to take part in the Feb. 27 to 28 talks in Washington, that were intended to produce a final agreement with Egypt and Sudan on the filling and operation of the dam.

In response to Ethiopia’s stance, Egypt has launched an international diplomatic offensive to shore up its position with regard to its Nile water rights.

The Ethiopian side stands accused of dragging its feet after it skipped the latest round of talks. The decision left the Egyptians angry and the Americans, who had drafted an agreement with the technical input of the World Bank, disappointed.

Egypt relies on the Nile for 90 percent of its water. It contends that having a stable flow of the Nile waters is a matter of survival in a country where water is scarce.

FASTFACT

S4.2 billion

Cost of mega-dam on which Ethiopia bets to become a manufacturing power

A 1929 treaty (and a subsequent one signed in 1959) gave Egypt and Sudan rights to nearly all of the Nile’s waters. The document also gives Egypt veto powers over any infrastructure projects by upstream countries that would affect its share of the river’s resources.

Ethiopia launched construction in 2011 on the Blue Nile in the northern Ethiopian highlands, from where 85 percent of the Nile’s waters flow.

One of Egypt’s main worries is that if the water flow diminishes, it could affect Lake Nasser, the reservoir further downriver, behind Egypt’s Aswan Dam.

For more than four years, three-way talks between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over operating the dam and filling its reservoir had made no progress until the US took up the role of mediator.

According to a US Treasury Department statement, the latest plan builds on the previous seven years of technical studies and consultations between the three countries and provides for the resolution of all outstanding issues concerning the filling and operation of the dam.

The statement expressed appreciation for the Egyptian side, which was described as relying on negotiations as the sole means of resolving the dispute and prepared to acknowledge Ethiopian interests, provided Ethiopia acknowledged its vital interests.

It said: “We also note the concern of downstream populations in Sudan and Egypt due to unfinished work on the safe operation of the GERD, and the need to implement all necessary dam safety measures in accordance with international standards before filling begins.”

Egypt’s position is to make sure the upcoming structure – Africa’s biggest hydroelectric power plant – does not cause significant harm to downstream countries and the final testing and filling of the dam does not take place without an agreement.

Egypt has proposed a longer period – so that the level of the river does not dramatically drop, especially in the initial phase of filling the reservoir. The longer it takes to fill the reservoir, the less impact there will be on the level of the Nile.

For its part, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a statement reflecting the truth of the country’s position on the project.

It said the countries still had to discuss major issues related to the final agreement, and that Ethiopia was committed to continuing consultations with Egypt and Sudan to reach a final agreement regarding the filling and operation of the dam.

The statement made clear Ethiopia’s intention to start filling the dam as construction proceeded, even without reaching an agreement.

Such a course of action would constitute a violation of international law and article n.5 of the 2015 Declaration of Principles.

FASTFACT

90%

Reliance of Egypt on the Nile for its water

Things were not in favor of Egypt as long as Ethiopia was successful in portraying itself as the victim. But today, the shoe is on the other foot.

Ethiopia is in denial regarding the rules of geography and international laws and customs when it claims it has the absolute right to the Blue Nile because it runs through Ethiopian territory.

This is a clear violation of international law that stipulates equitable sharing of downstream benefits on international rivers, including the Nile River. The law gives Egypt a strong bargaining position in diplomatic or legal disputes.

In addition to a phone call between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and US President Donald Trump, the Egyptian diplomatic mission has been in touch with African countries with a view to winning their support.

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry held a meeting with the ambassadors of African countries in Cairo, where he reviewed the latest developments in the Grand Renaissance Dam issue and highlighted Cairo’s efforts at reaching a fair and equitable agreement that advances the interests of all three parties.

Shoukry further briefed the envoys on Egypt’s efforts and achievements during its one-year presidency of the African Union and its commitment to pursue efforts to promote joint African work.

Egypt has also sought support in the Arab League, by presenting a draft resolution that stresses Cairo and Khartoum’s rights to the Nile waters.

The Arab League has extended full support to the draft resolution and rejected any unilateral measures by Ethiopia. Egypt’s draft resolution welcomed the agreement prepared by the US government as “a fair and equitable agreement that fulfills the interests of the three countries.”

Many in Egypt think it is no longer useful to stay silent in the face of Sudan’s unabashed and inexplicable pro-Ethiopian stance.

Rather the differences with Sudan should be addressed through high-level and honest dialogue, which would make the Sudanese transitional government aware of its responsibilities and extent of the damage it is causing to Egyptian interests.

Sudan’s expression of reservations over the Egyptian draft resolution came as a shock to everyone in attendance at the Arab League meeting.

Some of the attendees said while the strength of Arab support for the resolution was palpable, the Sudanese side, instead of showing enthusiasm, requested that the country’s name not be included in the resolution.

It argued that the resolution did not serve its interests and that the Arab League should not be dragged into the matter. The Sudanese also expressed fears about an Arab-Ethiopian confrontation emanating from the dispute.

Against this tense backdrop, the Ethiopian government has shown no sign of changing its tune. It recently launched the third round of its fund-raising program to complete the construction of the dam and fill the reservoir, even though no international agreement has been reached.

The six-month program, launched by Ethiopia’s President Sahle-Work Zewde, aims to involve citizens in the dam’s construction.

Amid the furor over the dam, it is tempting to forget that the riparian states share a culture with similar features, the same destiny and one river.

They ought to bear in mind that negotiation is the fastest route to reach a solution for any crisis.

Direct communication between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum is arguably the best guarantee for prevention of any attempt by other parties to take advantage of the tense situation.


Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival
Updated 08 May 2021

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

CAIRO: Egypt will require all visitors arriving from “countries where variants of the virus have appeared” to take a rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival, its health ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
The statement did not specify the countries from which passengers would take the 15-minute DNA test, called ID NOW.
Egypt’s new coronavirus cases have been steadily rising in recent weeks. On Saturday it reported 1,125 new cases and 65 deaths, although experts say that reflects only a fraction of total cases.
In a statement on Saturday, Egypt’s tourism ministry clarified that restaurants and coffee shops attached to hotels were exempt from a recent decree that such outlets as well as malls and stores would close at 9 p.m. local time (GMT +2) in order to not affect tourism.


Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
Updated 08 May 2021

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
  • Clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: A night of heavy clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem left more than 200 Palestinians wounded, medics said Saturday, as the city braced for even more violence after weeks of unrest.
Nightly protests broke out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan over police restrictions at a popular gathering place and have reignited in recent days over threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in the decades-old conflict.
It was unclear what set off the violence at Al-Aqsa, which erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslim worshippers were holding evening prayers at the sprawling hilltop esplanade.
Throughout the night large groups of protesters could be seen hurling rocks as Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. At one point, the police entered one of the buildings in the complex, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 88 of the wounded were hospitalized. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 83 people were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, including three who were shot in the eye, two with serious head injuries and two with broken jaws.
The Israeli police said protesters hurled stones, fireworks and other objects at them, wounding six officers who required medical treatment. “We will respond with a heavy hand to all violent disturbances, riots and attacks on our forces,” it said in a statement late Friday.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the biblical temples. It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Some 70,000 worshippers had attended the final midday Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa, the Islamic endowment that oversees the site said. Thousands protested afterwards, waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
At the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April, Israel blocked off a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialize at the end of their daylong fast. The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.
But in recent days, protests have grown over Israel's threatened eviction in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem of dozens of Palestinians embroiled in a long legal battle with Israeli settlers trying to acquire property in the neighborhood.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about both the violence and the threatened evictions, and was in contact with leaders on both sides to try and de-escalate tensions.
“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace,” the US State Department said in a statement. “This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
The European Union also urged calm. It said the potential evictions were of “serious concern," adding that such actions are "illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has also condemned Israel's actions, as has the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel last year in a US-brokered deal.
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more unrest in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.


Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops
Updated 08 May 2021

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops
  • The US accuses Iran-backed militia groups of launching regular rocket attacks against its troops in Iraq

BAGHDAD: A drone strike early on Saturday targeted a military base in Iraq that hosts US troops, causing only minor damage and no casualties, Iraq’s military and the US-led coalition said.
The pore-dawn attack damaged a hangar, tweeted coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto. He said the attack was under investigation. An Iraqi military statement also said no losses were reported.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The US has blamed Iran-backed militia groups for previous attacks, most of them rocket attacks that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and military bases across Iraq.
Drone strikes are less common. In mid-April, an explosive-laden drone targeted the military section of the international airport in Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region, causing no casualties or damages. The base also hosts US troops.
The attacks have been frequent since a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a non-binding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.
The Biden administration has resumed strategic talks with Baghdad, initiated under President Donald Trump, in which the future of US troop presence in Iraq is a central point of discussion.


Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
Updated 08 May 2021

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
  • Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule

DUBAI: The Philippines and Egypt were the latest inclusion in Oman’s list where travelers from the said countries are banned from entering the Sultanate.

The decision was issued by the Supreme Committee, which takes lead in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and took effect on Friday, May 7.

Travelers from Egypt and the Philippines, and those who transited in any of the said countries during the 14 days, are particularly affected by the travel restriction a report from Times of Oman said.

Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule but are subject to the procedures adopted upon entering the Sultanate, the report added.

Oman earlier added India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the travel ban list, joining Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom where their residents have been barred from entering since February 24.


UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 08 May 2021

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
  • The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began

DUBAI: UAE health authorities reported 1,766 new coronavirus cases after conducting 211,462 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as well three deaths fatalities from the contagious disease.

The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began, with 1,607 confirmed deaths, a report from state news agency WAM said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention reiterated its call for residents to adhere coronavirus protocols and maintain social distancing to ensure public health and safety.

Meanwhile, 141,283 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been provided during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses provided to residents and citizens to 11,048,547.

The rate of vaccine distribution now stands at 111.71 doses per 100 people.