Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections

Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas speaks in the West Bank's Ramallah on September 3, 2020, as he meets by video conference with representatives of Palestinian factions gathered at the Palestinian embassy in Beirut in rare talks on how to respond to such accords and to a Middle East peace plan announced by Washington this year. (File/AFP)
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Updated 16 January 2021

Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections

Abbas announces long-awaited Palestinian elections
  • The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide
  • The 2005 Palestinian presidential vote saw Abbas elected with 62 percent support to replace the late Yasser Arafat

RAMALLAH: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Friday announced dates for the first Palestinian elections in more than 15 years, setting legislative polls for May 22 and a July 31 presidential vote.
Abbas’s Fatah party, which controls the Palestinian Authority based in the occupied West Bank, and the Hamas group, who hold power in Gaza, have for years expressed interest in taking Palestinians back to the polls.
A long-standing rivalry between the two main Palestinian factions was seen as a leading factor in stalling progress toward a new vote.
But Fatah and Hamas have lately been engaged in unity talks, reaching an agreement in principle in September to hold elections in 2021.
Hamas on Friday welcomed Abbas’s announcement.
“In recent months, we have worked to overcome obstacles in order to reach this day,” it said in a statement.
It added that it looked to “free elections in which voters can express themselves without pressure and without restrictions, in all fairness and transparency.”
A statement on the official Palestinian Wafa news agency said Abbas has signed “a presidential decree concerning elections,” specifying the May and July dates.
“This announcement was eagerly awaited,” Palestinian analyst Arif Jaffal, head of the Arab World Democracy and Electoral Monitor, told AFP.
“It is a very important step,” he said.
The 2005 Palestinian presidential vote saw Abbas elected with 62 percent support to replace the late Yasser Arafat.
There has been no indication from Fatah as to whether the 85-year-old Abbas intends to seek re-election.
A rare poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research carried out last year said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would beat Abbas in a presidential election.

The statement from Abbas said he expects polls will be held “in all governorates of Palestine, including east Jerusalem,” which was annexed by Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War but is considered occupied territory.
Israel bans all Palestinian Authority activity in east Jerusalem, and there was no indication the Jewish state would allow a Palestinian vote within the city.
Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces his own re-election contest in March, describes Jerusalem as Israel’s “undivided capital.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said his government “was ready to get things going to facilitate the electoral process, in total transparency, while waiting for pluralism.”
Some 2.8 million Palestinians live in the West Bank, while the densely populated Gaza Strip is home to two million.
The last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 saw Hamas win an unexpected landslide.
The polls resulted in a brief unity government but it soon collapsed and in 2007, bloody clashes erupted in the Gaza Strip between the two principal Palestinian factions, with Hamas ultimately seizing control of Gaza.
Numerous attempts at reconciliation, including a prisoner exchange agreement in 2012 and a short-lived coalition government two years later, have failed to close the rift.
But experts have said intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks have taken on greater urgency following a series of US-brokered normalization agreements signed between Israel and four Arab states.
The deals to normalize ties with Israel signed by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan were condemned across the Palestinian political spectrum.
They also broke with decades of Arab League consensus against recognition of Israel until it reached an agreement to end the Palestinian conflict that included the creation of Palestinian state, with a capital in east Jerusalem.
Palestinian leaders have also voiced hope that the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden will lead to renewed diplomacy on the Palestinian cause.
The PA cut ties with President Donald Trump’s administration, accusing it of egregious bias toward Israel.


UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire
Updated 6 min 56 sec ago

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire

UN advance team arrives in Libya to monitor cease-fire
  • The group of about 10 United Nations staff flew into the capital Tripoli on Tuesday
  • The unarmed observer team is also tasked with verifying the departure of thousands of mercenaries and foreign fighters

TRIPOLI: The advance team of a UN observer mission has arrived in Libya, which after a decade of conflict and chaos plans to hold elections in December, informed sources said Wednesday.
The group of about 10 United Nations staff flew into the capital Tripoli on Tuesday, they said, to monitor a cease-fire between the country’s two rival armed factions.
The unarmed observer team is also tasked with verifying the departure of thousands of mercenaries and foreign fighters who have been deployed in the oil-rich North African country and have so far shown no sign of leaving.
Libya was thrown into years of violent turmoil after a 2011 NATO-backed uprising toppled and led to the killing of long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
The country has been split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord, based in the capital and backed by Turkey, and an administration in the east supported by strongman Kalifa Haftar, with the backing of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.
The two sides reached a cease-fire in October, and UN-led talks since resulted in a new temporary administration elected in February, led by interim prime minister-designate Abdul Hamid Dbeibah.
A diplomatic source in Tunis said the advance team, made up from the UN mission in Libya and experts from UN headquarters in New York, arrived Tuesday via the neighboring country’s capital Tunis.
On its five-week mission it is to travel to Sirte, a city on the Mediterranean coast halfway between the eastern and western power centers, as well as to Misrata in the west and Benghazi in the east.
A diplomatic source in New York said the team is due to submit a report to the UN Security Council on March 19 on the cease-fire and the departure of foreign troops.
According to the UN, some 20,000 mercenaries and foreign fighters were still in Libya in early December. A January 23 deadline for their withdrawal passed without any signs of them pulling out.
The Security Council in early February ordered UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to deploy the vanguard of observers in Libya, following the October 23 cease-fire deal.
In a report late last year, Guterres himself had advocated an unarmed observer group be made up of civilians and retired military personnel from African Union, European Union and Arab League member states.


Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow
Updated 21 min 33 sec ago

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

Turkey says it may negotiate maritime demarcation with Egypt if conditions allow

ANKARA: Turkey and Egypt could negotiate a maritime demarcation agreement in the eastern Mediterranean if their ties, which have been strained, allow for such a move, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday.
Last month, Egypt announced the start of a bid round for oil and natural gas exploration and exploitation in 24 blocks including some in the Mediterranean.
Speaking at a news conference with his Georgian counterpart in Ankara, Cavusoglu said Egypt’s exploration bids had respected Turkey’s continental shelf and that Ankara viewed this positively. 


UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 39 min 38 sec ago

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours

UAE confirms 2,692 new COVID-19 cases, 16 deaths in last 24 hours
  • The country’s COVID-19 caseload is now at 399,463

DUBAI: The UAE confirmed 2,692 new coronavirus cases and 16 deaths on Wednesday as the Emirates continues to expand its testing of citizens and residents for the early detection of the highly contagious disease.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload is now at 399,463, with a total of 1,269 fatalities related to coronavirus.

Health officials have conducted 218,351 additional COVID-19 tests overnight, state news agency WAM said, with the total number of tests now over 31 million.

The UAE leads the world in terms of conducting coronavirus tests relative to the size of population, with infection rates compared to the total tests being among the lowest in the region and the entire world, WAM earlier said.

It is also tops the global tally on COVID-19 vaccinations after implementing a vaccination campaign to for residents and citizens to achieve mass immunity. More than six million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been provided and 3,614,070 people have been vaccinated to date, which accounts for 46.61 percent of the target population.


Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack
Updated 03 March 2021

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

Pope says will make Iraq trip despite rocket attack

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis said Wednesday he still expected to make his historic visit to Iraq in two days time, after a rocket attack on a military base hosting US-led coalition troops.
"The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage. For a long time I have wanted to meet these people who have suffered so much," the 84-year-old Francis said in his weekly Wednesday address.
The Argentine pontiff asked for prayers for the trip, the first ever by a pope to Iraq, through which he hopes to encourage the dwindling Christian community to remain in their ancient homeland while broadening his outreach to Islam.
"I ask you to accompany this apostolic journey with your prayers so that it may take place in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits," the pope said.
He added: "The Iraqi people are waiting for us, they were waiting for Saint John Paul II, who was forbidden to go. One cannot disappoint a people for the second time. Let us pray that this journey will be successful."
At least 10 rockets slammed into a military base in western Iraq hosting US-led coalition troops earlier on Wednesday, security sources said, leaving one civilian contractor dead.
The attack on the sprawling Ain al-Assad base in Iraq's western desert comes after several weeks of escalating US-Iran tensions on Iraqi soil.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for Francis said the pope would be travelling by armoured vehicle and that he would not be meeting crowds.
"This is a particular situation, that's why the transports will all be in a closed vehicle, meaning it will be complicated to see the pope on the streets," spokesman Matteo Brunei said.
"There will be a number of meetings but none will be more than a few hundred people," he said.


New government takes oath before Kuwait emir

New government takes oath before Kuwait emir
Updated 03 March 2021

New government takes oath before Kuwait emir

New government takes oath before Kuwait emir

DUBAI: Kuwait Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah called on the executive and legislative authorities in his country to cooperate as a new government took oath before him, according to state-run news agency KUNA. 

Sheikh Nawaf received at his Bayan Palace the prime minister, Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah to swear-in as head of cabinet.
Ministers of the new government were also sworn in.

The previous government had resigned in January.
Oil Minister Mohammad Abdulatif Al-Fares, Finance Minister Khalifa Hamade and Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah were reappointed in the new cabinet.