Egypt reopens Gaza Strip crossing amid faction talks

Egypt reopens Gaza Strip crossing amid faction talks
Members of the Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas, mask-clad due to the coronavirus pandemic, stand guard at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Feb. 9, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 February 2021

Egypt reopens Gaza Strip crossing amid faction talks

Egypt reopens Gaza Strip crossing amid faction talks
  • The Rafah crossing, the sole crossing point between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, has been a source of dispute between the Egyptian government and Hamas

CAIRO: Egypt reopened its border crossing with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday amid talks in Cairo aimed at resolving issues between rival Palestinian factions.

The Rafah crossing, the sole crossing point between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, has been a source of dispute between the Egyptian government and Hamas, which is taking part in the negotiations.

The Palestinian Embassy in Cairo said that Egypt had decided to reopen the crossing as a result of “intensive and bilateral talks between the Palestinian and Egyptian leaderships to facilitate the passage of Palestinians to and from the Gaza Strip.”Walid Al-Awad, a member of the Palestinian People’s Party political bureau, said that the reopening of the Rafah crossing shows that discussions in Cairo are making progress.

Talks involving the Palestinian factions resumed in Cairo on Tuesday.

Palestinian sources have described the mood in the sessions as positive.

Talks involving 14 Palestinian factions began on Monday under the patronage of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in an attempt to strengthen understanding and open a new chapter in the history of Palestine.

Discussions also will focus on the upcoming legislative and presidential elections following last month’s decree by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The presidential elections in July and National Council poll in August will be the first in Palestine since 2006.

Egyptian media quoted an official source saying: “The Palestinian national dialogue in Cairo aims to overcome Palestinian differences and build a fruitful future for coming generations.”

El-Sisi has said that Egypt will continue to support the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.


Western powers condemn attacks in Kurdish Iraq

France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday, including one on Erbil Airport, pictured. (Reuters/File Photo)
France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday, including one on Erbil Airport, pictured. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 3 min 27 sec ago

Western powers condemn attacks in Kurdish Iraq

France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday, including one on Erbil Airport, pictured. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • An attack on Wednesday on an airport in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, was carried out by drone
  • Around 20 bomb or rocket attacks have targeted bases housing US soldiers or diplomats in Iraq since President Joe Biden took office

BERLIN: France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the US condemned attacks this week in Iraqi Kurdistan “in the strongest terms” in a joint statement on Friday.

“Together, our governments will support the government of Iraq’s investigation into the attacks to ensure that those responsible will be held accountable,” they said.

The Western powers said they were “united” in the view “that attacks on US and Coalition personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and reiterate our steadfast commitment to the fight against Daesh.”

An attack on Wednesday on an airport in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, was carried out by drone, according to the Kurdish interior ministry, in an unprecedented escalation of the arms used to target US soldiers based there.

No one was hurt in the blast but a building was damaged.

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Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry condemned a drone attack targeting US forces stationed at Erbil airport in northern Iraq late on Wednesday. Click here for more.

A Turkish soldier was killed by rocket fire at around the same time at a military base 50 kilometers east in Bashiqa, Ankara said, but there was no immediate confirmation of any link between the two attacks.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the airport drone attack.

But a shadowy pro-Iranian group calling itself Awliyaa Al-Dam (Guardians of Blood), which claimed responsibility for a similar attack at the airport in February, hailed the blast in pro-Tehran channels on the messaging app Telegram.

Around 20 bomb or rocket attacks have targeted bases housing US soldiers or diplomats in Iraq since President Joe Biden took office at the end of January.

Dozens more took place over the preceding 18 months, with Washington consistently blaming pro-Iran factions.

Washington and Tehran are both allies of Baghdad, but remain sharply at odds over Iran's nuclear programme.

Pro-Iran groups have been ratcheting up their rhetoric, vowing to ramp up attacks to force out the “occupying” US forces, over a year after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel the American troops.

Washington last week committed to withdrawing all remaining combat forces from Iraq, although the two countries did not set a timeline for what would be the second withdrawal since the 2003 invasion.


Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits

Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits
Updated 16 April 2021

Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits

Lenderking discusses importance of reaching solution to Yemen conflict during UAE, Germany visits
  • Lenderking and Griffiths are working to encourage the delivery of fuel into Yemen and re-initiate political talks
  • In the UAE, Lenderking met with officials to discuss the importance of fully implementing the Riyadh Agreement

LONDON: US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking discussed the importance of reaching a lasting solution to the conflict in the country during a recent visit to Berlin.
Lenderking also discussed taking action to mitigate the humanitarian and economic crisis in the war torn country with representatives from the UN Security Council permanent member states, as well as Germany, Kuwait, Sweden, and the EU.
Ending the Houthi assault on Marib, facilitating a UN inspection and repair of the Safer oil tanker, and supporting the legitimate government’s efforts to stabilize the Yemeni economy and ease the humanitarian crisis were steps highlighted to end the conflict during the discussions in Berlin.
In the UAE, Lenderking met with officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the importance of full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement.
The Yemen envoy arrived in Germany on Monday, traveled to the UAE on Wednesday and returned to the US on Friday.
Lenderking and the UN’s Yemen envoy Martin Griffiths are working side-by-side to encourage the swift delivery of fuel into Yemen and re-initiate political talks with the support of the Omani government, a US State Department statement said.
It called on all parties to commit seriously and negotiate in good faith.


Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found
Updated 16 April 2021

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found

Migrant boat sinks off Tunisia, 21 dead, 3 survivors found
  • A survivor said that the boat had 41 migrants on board, who had set off from Sfax in hope of reaching the Italian coast
  • The port city has become a common exit point for Europe-bound migrants escaping conflict or poor living conditions

TUNIS, Tunisia: Tunisian authorities said they recovered the bodies of 21 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, including nine women and a baby, whose boat sank Friday off the central port city of Sfax. The cause of the sinking was unclear.
Commander Housemeddine Jebabli, of the National Guard, told The Associated Press there were only three survivors, who were rescued by the coast guard with the help of civil protection divers.
Jebabli said that authorities are continuing to search the area of the sinking, as there are indications that 17 people could be missing.
Jebabli said a survivor told him that the boat had 41 migrants on board, who had set off the day before from Sfax in hope of reaching the Italian coast.
The port city has become a common exit point for Europe-bound migrants escaping conflict or poor living conditions.
Last month, on March 9, two boats ran aground in the same area killing 39 people, while 165 migrants were rescued. Most were sub-Saharan nationals.


With food and fuel, Hezbollah braces for the worst in Lebanon collapse

With food and fuel, Hezbollah braces for the worst in Lebanon collapse
Updated 16 April 2021

With food and fuel, Hezbollah braces for the worst in Lebanon collapse

With food and fuel, Hezbollah braces for the worst in Lebanon collapse
  • Hezbollah readies for 'stage of darkness and hunger', a step reflecting worries over looming end to subsidies
  • Plan chimes with worries in Lebanon that people will have to rely on political factions for food and security

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah has made preparations for an all-out collapse of the fracturing state, issuing ration cards for food, importing medicine and readying storage for fuel from its patron Iran, three sources familiar with the plans told Reuters.
The moves, responding to a grave economic crisis, would mark an expansion of services provided by the armed movement to its large Shiite support base, with a network that already boasts charities, a construction firm and a pension system.
The steps highlight rising fears of an implosion of the Lebanese state, in which authorities can no longer import food or fuel to keep the lights on.
They underline Hezbollah’s growing role in tackling the emergency with services that the government would otherwise provide.
The plan chimes with worries in Lebanon that people will have to rely on political factions for food and security, such as in militia days during the 1975-1990 civil war.
In response to a question about Hezbollah’s plans, Leila Hatoum, an adviser to the caretaker prime minister, said the country was “in no condition to refuse aid” regardless of politics.
The sources from the pro-Hezbollah camp, who declined to be named, said the plan for a potential worst-case scenario has gathered pace as an end to subsidies looms in the coming months, raising the specter of hunger and unrest.
Lebanon’s currency has crashed as the country runs out of dollars, with no state rescue in sight. Food prices have shot up 400%.
Fights in supermarkets are now commonplace, as are people rummaging through trash. A brawl over food packages this week killed one person and injured two others.
Hezbollah’s plan would help shield its communities — not only members but also mainly Shiite residents of districts it dominates — from the worst of the crisis, the sources said.
Hezbollah, which with its allies has a majority in parliament and government, did not respond to a request for comment.
“The preparations have begun for the next stage...It is indeed an economic battle plan,” said one of the sources, a senior official.

OUTSIZED NETWORK
Already, the new ration card, seen by Reuters, helps hundreds of people buy basic goods in the local currency — largely Iranian, Lebanese and Syrian cheaper items at a discount up to 40%, subsidised by the party, the sources said.
The card — named after a Shiite Imam — can be used at co-ops, some of them newly opened, in the southern Beirut suburbs and parts of southern Lebanon where Hezbollah holds sway.
An Iran-funded paramilitary force which critics once called “a state within a state,” Hezbollah has grown more entangled in Lebanese state affairs in recent years.
Washington, which deems Hezbollah a terrorist group, has ramped up sanctions to choke off its sources of funding, including what it estimates as hundreds of millions of dollars from Tehran yearly.
Iranian funding keeps Hezbollah better off than many in the country’s mosaic of parties, including those opposed to its arsenal. Some factions have issued aid baskets to their patronage communities, but the Iran-backed network remains outsized in comparison.
“They’re all doing it...But Hezbollah’s scope is much bigger and more powerful, with more resources to deal with the crisis,” said Joseph Daher, a researcher who wrote a book on Hezbollah’s political economy. “This is more about limiting the catastrophe for its popular base. It means the dependency on Hezbollah particularly will increase.”
And while Hezbollah gives ration cards, the state, hollowed out by decades of graft and debt, has talked up the idea of such a card for poor Lebanese for nearly a year without acting.
Ministers have said the need for parliamentary approval has stalled the cabinet’s plan for cards.

DARKNESS AND HUNGER
Photos on social media of shelves stacked with canned goods, reportedly from one of Hezbollah’s co-ops, spread across Lebanon last week.
Fatima Hamoud, in her 50s, said the ration card allows her once a month to buy grains, oil and cleaning products for a household of eight. “They know we’re in bad shape,” she said. “Without them, what would we have done in these tough times?“
A second Shiite source said Hezbollah had filled up warehouses and launched the cards to extend services outside the party and plug gaps in the Lebanese market, where cheap alternatives are more common than pre-crisis.
He said the card offers a quota, based on the family size, for needs like sugar and flour.
The goods are backed by Hezbollah, imported by allied companies or brought in without customs fees through the border with Syria, where Hezbollah forces have a footing since joining the war to back Damascus alongside Iran.
The source added that Hezbollah had similar plans for medicine imports. Some pharmacists in the southern suburbs of Beirut said they had received training on new Iranian and Syrian brands that popped up on the shelves in recent months.
Two of the sources said the plan included stockpiling fuel from Iran, as Lebanon’s energy ministry warns of a possible total blackout. The senior official said Hezbollah was clearing storage space for fuel in next-door Syria.
“When we get to a stage of darkness and hunger, you will find Hezbollah going to its back-up option...and that is a grave decision. Then Hezbollah will fill in for the state,” said the senior official. “If it comes to it, the party would’ve taken its precautions to prevent a void.”


Erdogan defends minister after spat with Greece

Erdogan defends minister after spat with Greece
Updated 16 April 2021

Erdogan defends minister after spat with Greece

Erdogan defends minister after spat with Greece
  • ‘Turkey has violated international laws and conventions’, Greek foreign minister told Turkish counterpart
  • "Our foreign minister put him in his place in the face of this behaviour and attitude," Erdogan told reporters Friday

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday robustly defended his foreign minister after he traded barbs in an unusually public spat with his Greek counterpart.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias’s visit to Ankara on Thursday ended in disarray when he and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu used their closing statements to accuse each other of discrimination and violating international laws.
“Turkey has violated international laws and conventions in the Aegean Sea and in the eastern Mediterranean,” Dendias told Cavusoglu at one point.
“Turkey has carried out 400 (military) flights over Greek soil,” said Dendias.
“If you heavily accuse my country and people before the press, I have to be in a position to respond to that,” Cavusoglu retorted.
The oddly undiplomatic press event became the dominant talking point on Turkish news shows and overshadowed what was meant to be an attempt by the two NATO neighbors to mend ties after a year of disputes.
It was the first time the two ministers met since the two countries teetered on the edge of war when their gunboats collided during a Turkish push into disputed eastern Mediterranean waters last August.
Erdogan said Cavusoglu “could not be any softer” with Dandias because “that would not suit our country or people.”
“Our foreign minister put him in his place in the face of this behavior and attitude,” Erdogan told reporters after attending Friday prayers in Istanbul.
The Turkish leader said his own meeting with Dendias earlier that day was held in a “warm atmosphere.”
Dendias had also described his talks with Erdogan as “extraordinary.”
Turkey had said last month that Dendias was coming to prepare what could have been a groundbreaking summit between Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
But the heated exchange highlighted the deep diplomatic divide that stands between the two neighbors and no summit was announced.
The disagreements on Thursday included each country’s treatment of their respective Turkish Muslim and Greek Orthodox minorities.
Erdogan took issue with Dendias’s decision to pay a visit to the spiritual leader of Eastern Orthodox Christians in Istanbul on Wednesday.
“You don’t show the necessary ... concern for our 150,000 (Turks in Greece). You appoint their chief mufti,” Erdogan said. “We do not appoint the patriarch here.”