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.


Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference
Updated 16 June 2021

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference

Lebanese army in crisis mode ahead of donor conference
BEIRUT: The Lebanese army is in desperate need of donor assistance to survive one of the world’s worst financial crashes, it said Wednesday ahead of a UN-backed fundraising conference.
Unlike previous donor conferences designed to provide training, weapons or equipment, the virtual meeting France hosts Thursday aims to offer the kind of humanitarian assistance usually reserved for countries grappling with conflict or natural disaster.
“We are in need of food parcels, health care assistance, and support with soldiers’ pay,” a military source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“The devaluation of the Lebanese pound is affecting soldiers and they are in need of support. Their salaries are not enough any more.”
Lebanon’s economic crisis, which the World Bank has labelled as one of the world’s worst since the 1850s, has eaten away at soldiers’ pay and slashed the military’s budget for maintenance and equipment, further threatening the country’s stability.
Already in July 2020, the army said it scrapped meat from the meals it gives for soldiers on duty, due to rising food prices.
“We are doing the impossible to ease the suffering and the economic woes of our soldiers,” army chief Joseph Aoun said in a speech on Tuesday.
“We are forced to turn to allied states to secure aid, and I am ready to go to the end of the world to procure assistance so that the army can stay on its feet.”
Thursday’s conference will see participation from Lebanon’s International Support Group, which includes Gulf states, European countries, the US, Russia and China.
It follows a visit by Aoun last month to Paris,where he warned that the army could face even darker days without emergency support.
“The Lebanese army is going through a major crisis, which could get worse due to the deteriorating economic and social situation in Lebanon, which may worsen when subsidies are lifted,” he said.
He was referring to a government plan to scrap subsidies on essential goods such as fuel, food and flour to shore up dwindling foreign currency reserves.
The army has been relying heavily on food donations from allied states since last summer’s monster port explosion in Beirut that killed more than 200 people and damaged swathes of the capital.
France, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey are among the army’s main food donors.
Iraq and Spain have offered medical assistance.
The United States remains the biggest financial backer of the Lebanese military.
It has bumped up funding for the army by $15 million for this year to $120 million.

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack
Updated 16 June 2021

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack

Palestinian woman shot dead by Israelis in West Bank after attempted attack
  • Palestinian health ministry said the soldiers responded with fire toward the assailant and neutralized her

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian woman was shot dead in the West Bank on Wednesday after attempting to ram Israeli soldiers with her car and attack them with a knife, the army and Palestinian health ministry said.
The Israeli army said “an assailant arrived in her car and attempted to ram into a number of IDF soldiers” near Hizma, south of Ramallah, before she “exited her vehicle with a knife drawn.”
“The soldiers responded with fire toward the assailant and neutralized her,” it said, with the Palestinian health ministry pronouncing her dead.


US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks

 US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks
Updated 16 June 2021

US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks

 US envoy for Yemen heading to Saudi Arabia for ceasefire talks
  • Tim Lenderking will aim to reach a “comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire” in Yemen
  • He has visited the region six times since being appointed by Biden

DUBAI: US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for Yemen will meet with Saudi officials this week in the latest round of diplomatic talks to resolve the years-long war, the State Department said Tuesday.

Tim Lenderking, who has visited the region six times since being appointed by Biden, will aim to reach a “comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire” in Yemen.

In a statement, the State Department said that “Lenderking will travel to Saudi Arabia on June 15-17 where he will meet with senior officials from the Governments of the Republic of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as well as UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths. Throughout the trip, Special Envoy Lenderking will discuss the latest efforts to achieve a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire, which is the only way to bring Yemenis the relief they so urgently need,” the statement added.

Since Biden took office, the US administration has increased mediation efforts between both countries while easing sanctions on the Iran-backed Houthis. Despite his efforts, the Houthis have maintained their attacks on Saudi Arabia, undermining peace talks.

On Sunday, a Houthi explosive drone destroyed part of a school in the kingdom’s southwestern region of Asir.

“The United States also recognizes Saudi Arabia’s efforts to advance implementation of the Riyadh Agreement, which is essential to stability, security, and prosperity in the south of Yemen,” Washington said.
“Additionally, Special Envoy Lenderking will continue to press for the free flow of essential commodities and humanitarian aid into and throughout Yemen.”


Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign
Updated 16 June 2021

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign

Reformist drops out of Iran election on last day of campaign
  • Mohsen Mehralizadeh resigned in a letter to Iran’s Interior Ministry
  • Mehralizadeh’s departure likely will boost former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati
TEHRAN: The only reformist candidate in Iran’s upcoming presidential election dropped out of the race Wednesday on the last day of campaigning, state media reported, likely trying to boost the chances of a moderate candidate.
Mohsen Mehralizadeh, 64, resigned in a letter to Iran’s Interior Ministry, which runs elections in the Islamic Republic, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Such dropouts are common in Iranian presidential elections in order to boost the chances of similar candidates.
Mehralizadeh’s departure likely will boost former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, who has been running as a moderate and as a stand-in for President Hassan Rouhani, who is term limited from running again.
Hemmati on Wednesday said that he would select Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to join his administration as either his vice president or foreign minister, embracing the top diplomat who was an architect of Tehran’s now-tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
“The economic development of Iran is not possible without strong diplomatic engagement abroad,” Hemmati wrote on Twitter to explain his choice of Zarif. “My administration is after the removal of sanctions and use of foreign policy to achieve political development.”
The move appeared aimed at consolidating the pro-reform vote just ahead of the poll. Zarif, among the best-known political figures in the Rouhani administration, has come under fire from the political establishment in recent weeks after the leak of a contentious audiotape in which he offered a blunt appraisal of power struggles in the Islamic Republic.
There was no immediate word from Zarif on Hemmati’s announcement, but the minister has previously indicated a willingness to join the incoming administration.
Mehralizadeh’s withdrawal Wednesday leaves six candidates in the race. Polling and analysts indicate Hemmati lags behind the country’s hard-line judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, the campaign’s front-runner long cultivated by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other hard-line candidates may drop out Wednesday to lend their support to Raisi.
Mehralizadeh served as governor in two Iranian provinces, as the vice president in charge of physical education under reformist President Mohammad Khatami and as a deputy in the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, which runs the country’s civilian nuclear program. He came in last place in Iran’s 2005 election, but found himself barred from running in 2015.
Within Iran, candidates exist on a political spectrum that broadly includes hard-liners who want to expand Iran’s nuclear program and confront the world, moderates who hold onto the status quo and reformists who want to change the theocracy from within.
Although a range of prominent reformists and key Rouhani allies registered to run for president, Iran’s clerical vetting body allowed just several low-profile candidates, mostly hard-liners, to run against Raisi. Owing in part to the disqualifications as well as the raging coronavirus pandemic, voter apathy runs deep. The state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has most recently projected a 42 percent turnout from the country’s 59 million eligible voters, which would be a historic low amid mounting calls for a boycott.
In his weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Rouhani urged the public to vote, state TV reported.
“It does not do us any good if the election is cold, lacks people, and its ballots are sparsely populated,” said Rouhani.

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 
Updated 16 June 2021

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 

Iraqi FM in talks with Kuwait to develop joint cooperation 

DUBAI: Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein held talks on Tuesday with his Kuwaiti counterpart to develop joint cooperation between the two former-warring states.
Hussein met with Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah on the sidelines of the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers held in Doha, the Iraqi News Agency (INA) reported.
“The two sides discussed a number of issues related to bilateral relations in light of the steady growth that these relations are witnessing,” the agency added. 
Hussein indicated, according to the statement, Baghdad's keenness to continue working to advance their relations and develop them at all levels.