Israel ‘closes door on peace’ with plan to annex West Bank

Israeli police secure the scene of an attack in Kfar Saba on Tuesday. A Palestinian teenager stabbed an Israeli woman before he was shot by a security guard. (AFP)
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Updated 29 April 2020

Israel ‘closes door on peace’ with plan to annex West Bank

  • Coalition move threatens Mideast stability, Palestinian leaders warn
  • Political analysts warn that any move to seize new territory will shut the door on the two-state solution.

GAZA CITY: An Israeli coalition government plan to annex further territory on the West Bank signals an end to the Mideast peace process, Palestinian leaders warned.
After three stalemate elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and arch-rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party recently signed a power-sharing deal allowing for the country’s premiership to be rotated between the two leaders.
Under to the agreement, Netanyahu can advance legislation to annex parts of the West Bank starting on July 1, on condition that the move is supported by the US as part of its peace proposal officially announced on Jan. 28.
However, Palestinian leaders and political analysts warn that any move to seize new territory will shut the door on the “two-state solution,” further threatening the stalled peace process and undermining stability in the region.
According to Palestinian estimates, up to 30 percent of the West Bank is threatened with annexation under the unity government agreement.
Immediately after the announcement of coalition pact, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said that “forming an Israeli annexation government means ending the two-state solution.”
Shtayyeh warned that “this will take us in a new direction of conflict with the occupation.”
Later, Shtayyeh said that Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had contacted world leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and the UN Security Council, calling for an international peace conference and a halt to Israel’s expansionist plans.
Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO executive and a close associate of Abbas, said that the Israeli coalition is “based on the theft of Palestinian lands, and constitutes a serious threat to peace, security and stability in the entire region, not only in Palestine.”
Erekat told Arab News that the next Israeli government has two options: “Either opening the horizons for a meaningful peace process, committing to its obligations and entitlements under international law, or working to further endanger peace, plundering the land and expanding illegal colonial settlement.”
He declined to comment on the Palestinian leadership’s options if Israel goes ahead with its plan.
The Netanyahu-Gantz agreement adds further strain to the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with Israel following a decision by an Israeli court to confiscate $128 million of Palestinian tax revenues in favor of Israeli families affected by Palestinian armed attacks.
Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah’s central committee, said that in the face of hostile Israeli measures, the “conflict with the occupation is taking a new turn.”
“All options are open,” he told Arab News.
“This brutal and extremist Israeli government eliminates any opportunity or hope for peace in the region, and its approach has support from the Trump administration.”
Zaki refused to rule out a “massive popular uprising against the occupation.”
He said: “We will open the way for our people to express their anger. When danger rocks you, you use all your tools, and there may be options that are not taken into account now.”
He added: “We will decide everything in due course, and our friends around the world will have an important role.”
However, political analyst Hani Al-Masri, director of the Masarat Center for Research and Studies in Ramallah, said that the Palestinian leadership is limited when it comes to “strong and influential options.”
Al-Masri told Arab News: “The leadership is capable and has choices. In 2000, Israel fought, but that was the time of Yasser Arafat. As for the leadership today, does it have the will and willingness to do that? Most likely not.”
He said that “the annexation scheme restores the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the first square, based on occupation, settlement, force and imposing reality on the ground.”

Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

Updated 2 min 24 sec ago

Data leak reveals true scale of Iran’s COVID-19 crisis

  • Iranian outbreak, already the worst in the Middle East, is far more serious than initially reported.
  • Tehran’s cover up of the true virus toll is consistent with their reaction to previous embarrassing incidents.

LONDON: A data leak from within Iran has revealed that the number of deaths caused by COVID-19 is nearly three times higher than the figures reported by the government.

The data, which was passed to the BBC Persian service, shows almost 42,000 people died with COVID-19 symptoms up to July 20, nearly triple the 14,405 reported by its health ministry.

The number of infections is also far higher than that admitted by the government: 451,024 as opposed to the 278,827 disclosed by Tehran.

Undercounting cases is common across the world due to limited testing capacity, but the BBC’s information reveals that Iranian authorities reported significantly lower daily numbers, despite having a record of all deaths — suggesting the figures were deliberately suppressed.

The data leak also shows that the first recorded case of the virus in Iran was on Jan. 22 — a month before the government acknowledged any cases.

Already the center of the Middle East’s virus outbreak, Tehran’s cover-up of early cases and its failure to swiftly act on the outbreak likely accelerated the spread of the virus across the region.

The BBC received the data from an anonymous source, who told them they shared the data to “shed light on the truth” and to end “political games” over the epidemic.

The data supplied includes details of daily admissions to hospitals across Iran, including names, age, gender, symptoms, date and length of periods spent in hospital, and underlying conditions patients might have.

The overall trend of cases and deaths in the leaked data is similar to official reports, but different in size.

Dr Nouroldin Pirmoazzen, a former Iranian MP who was an official at the health ministry and is now living in the US, told the BBC that the government was “anxious and fearful of the truth” when COVID-19 hit Iran.

He said: “The government was afraid that the poor and the unemployed would take to the streets.”

The Iranian health ministry maintains that the country’s reports to the World Health Organization on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are “transparent” and “far from any deviations.”

The cover-up of the true scale of their COVID-19 crisis is not unusual behaviour from the regime. A number of incidents have brought a similar response in 2020 alone.

In January, Iran shot down a Ukrainian jet near Tehran, killing all passengers on board. The regime hid its actions for three days, only acknowledging wrongdoing as public pressure mounted through protests.

Then Iranian nuclear and military facilities were the target of a series of sabotages, explosions, and cyberattacks, but Tehran has attempted to conceal what happened at virtually every step of the way.