Jordanian officials lambast Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque break-in

Jordanian officials lambast Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque break-in
The Jordanian spokesman called the Israeli action a ‘stark violation’ of the historic and legal status quo as well as a violation of international law and commitments made by Israel. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 01 March 2021

Jordanian officials lambast Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque break-in

Jordanian officials lambast Israel over Al-Aqsa Mosque break-in
  • Foreign Ministry spokesman says Israeli police violated mosque status quo

AMMAN: Jordanian officials have denounced the Israeli government’s decision to allow 230 radical Jews to break into Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday. The radicals were celebrating the Jewish festival of Purim and had called the day earlier to hold  “carnival”  festivities on this holiday, which is often celebrated with Jews wearing costumes and colorful outfits and masks. Others were filmed drunk and brandishing a wine bottle outside one of the mosque’s gates.

Daifallah Al-Fayez, a spokesman from the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, said that the Israeli police allowed hundreds of radicals to enter into Al-Aqsa Mosque without coordination with the Jordanian Waqf (endowment) officials.
The Jordanian spokesman called the Israeli action a “stark violation” of the historic and legal status quo as well as a violation of international law and commitments made by Israel.
Al-Fayez stressed that the Jerusalem Waqf department is the only legal party responsible for the management of the mosque, including deciding who can enter.
Al-Fayez said that Israel must respect the status quo and the authority of the Jerusalem-based waqf officials.
The Israeli action comes at a time when the country’s media has claimed that Israel’s Defense Minister General Benny Gantz held an unannounced meeting with the Jordanian monarch last Friday. Jordan has not commented on the issue and the Jordanian media has been relatively silent, except for some platforms republishing Israeli media reports.
Gantz, the leader of the Blue and White party, reportedly told his party members earlier that he was conducting secret meetings with top Jordanian officials. Gantz publicly criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to improve relations with Jordan.
“I think our relationship with Jordan could be 1,000 times better. Unfortunately, Netanyahu is an unwanted figure in Jordan, and his presence harms the two countries’ relations,” Gantz said.
Jordan’s king has been unhappy with the way Israel is violating an understanding reached in Amman in 2014 in the presence of then-US Secretary of State John Kerry, Netanyahu and Jordan’s king, in which they had agreed that Al-Aqsa Mosque is for “Muslims to pray and for all others to visit.”

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The end of the Gulf War on Feb. 28, 1991 saw the eviction of Iraq from Kuwait but paved the way for decades of conflict

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Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile

Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile
Updated 19 April 2021

Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile

Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile
  • Michel Kilo, who turned 80 last year, was a key player in efforts to form a credible non-violent alternative to President Bashar Assad’s regime
  • Kilo often spoke out against the internal rifts weakening Syria’s opposition and in 2015 he said the conflict’s foreign brokers have made matters worse

BEIRUT: Prominent exiled opposition figure Michel Kilo died of Covid-19 on Monday in Paris after a lifetime of peaceful struggle against Baath party rule in Syria, colleagues said.
Kilo, who turned 80 last year, was a key player in efforts to form a credible non-violent alternative to President Bashar Assad’s regime during the early stages of the conflict that erupted a decade ago.
“A great loss. Michel Kilo departed today after he was infected with Covid-19,” senior opposition figure Nasr Hariri wrote in a statement.
“Michel was an intellectual and patriotic powerhouse and his dream was to see a free and democratic Syria. God willing, the Syrian people will carry on this dream and see it through,” he said.
Kilo, who was also a writer, was born in 1940 to a Christian family in Syria’s Mediterranean town of Latakia, a bastion of the Assad family’s Alawite minority.
He had opposed the ruling Baath party since it came to power in 1963.
He was jailed in Syria from 1980 to 1983 under Hafez Assad, and then again from 2006 to 2009 under Bashar.
In September 2000, he was one of around 100 intellectuals who called for reforms including public freedoms, political pluralism, and the lifting of the state of emergency in what became known as the Damascus Spring.
He also belonged to a group of prominent Syrian opposition figures who in 2005 signed the “Damascus Declaration” calling for democratic reform in the autocratic Arab nation.
When mass anti-regime demonstrations swept Syria in 2011, he advocated peaceful protest but warned that armed resistance would lead to civil war.
“From the very beginning, the regime has followed a plan — push the protesters to extreme options, to take up arms. A peaceful civil movement is not what it wants at all,” Kilo told AFP in Damascus before the onset of a conflict that has since killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions.
In 2013, he joined the opposition alliance, known as the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) before quitting over internal divisions.
In a tribute on Monday, the SNC said Kilo had “dedicated his life to Syria and fought against tyranny for more than fifty years.”
Kilo often spoke out against the internal rifts weakening Syria’s opposition and in 2015 he said the conflict’s foreign brokers have made matters worse.
“We are hostages to meticulous political and diplomatic games” by states that each hold a “Syria card” they want to play, he said.
Fellow exiled opposition figure Alia Mansour mourned Kilo on Twitter.
“Michel Kilo spent his life opposing the Assad regime, fighting for freedom and democracy for Syria and its people,” she said.
“How misfortunate that you left before witnessing the downfall of the tyrant.”


Egypt: 3 militants involved in Christian's slaying killed

Egypt: 3 militants involved in Christian's slaying killed
Updated 19 April 2021

Egypt: 3 militants involved in Christian's slaying killed

Egypt: 3 militants involved in Christian's slaying killed
  • Militants were involved in killing of Nabil Habashi, a 62-year-old Coptic Christian kidnapped five months ago
  • Security forces exchanged fire with Daesh militants while chasing them in the Abtal area of North Sinai

CAIRO: Egypt police killed three suspected militants allegedly involved in the slaying of a Coptic Christian man kidnapped more than five months ago in a restive part of Sinai Peninsula, the Interior Ministry said Monday.
Security forces exchanged fire with Daesh militants while chasing them in the Abtal area of North Sinai province, the ministry said in a statement. Three of the militants were killed and police were chasing three others. The statement did not say when they fighting took place.
The ministry, which oversees the police, said an explosives belt detonated during the shootout. It was unclear whether the bomber was one of the three militants the ministry said were killed. No casualties were reported among the security forces.
The details provided by the ministry could not be independently verified and media access to northern Sinai is heavily restricted.
The ministry said the dead militants were involved in the killing of Nabil Habashi, a 62-year-old Coptic Christian from the town of Bir al-Abd. Nabashi had built the sole church in the area.
Militants kidnapped Habashi, a jewelry dealer, in November from Bir Al-Abd, and demanded a ransom of 2 million Egyptian pounds ($127,550 million), said a church official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
The local Daesh affiliate in Sinai Peninsula released a 13-minute video showing Habashi kneeling, with three men dressed in black standing behind him. One of the men appears to shoot Habashi in the back of his head. It was not clear when Habashi was killed.
Egypt is battling an Daesh-led insurgency in Sinai Peninsula that intensified after the military overthrew an elected Islamist president in 2013. The military had intervened after mass protests against the president's divisive, one-year rule. The insurgents have carried out scores of attacks, mainly targeting the security forces and minority Christians.


J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Updated 19 April 2021

J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict

J Street conference energizes push for two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • Palestinian president tells delegates he would return to peace table if talks were based on 1967 borders, shared East Jerusalem
  • Former Israeli PM says deal could ‘still be done’ with the right attitude from both sides

CHICAGO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told the annual conference of the progressive American Jewish lobby, J Street, that he would return to the peace table to negotiate over a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

During his presentation on Sunday, Abbas accused the current Israeli government of being an obstacle to peace by refusing to talk and he joined a succession of other speakers in reinforcing support for the two-state solution.

In 2008, Abbas met 35 times with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Madrid and came close to reaching an agreement, but the discussions were aborted when Olmert was ousted from office and Benjamin Netanyahu was elected premier.

“We believe in the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders … and a sharing of East Jerusalem. We are ready to resume negotiations,” Abbas told conference delegates.

The virtual J Street meeting was held in response to the continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and attracted nearly 5,000 registered attendees online.

In his address, Olmert said he believed that peace based on the two-state solution was not only possible but viable if Israel had the right government leadership to engage in direct negotiations with the Palestinians and if the Palestinians were to embrace the concept openly.

“There is no other way to resolve the historic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians … on the basis of the 1967 borders – there will be some changes in the border, but the total size will be as it was in 1967.

“If we sit together with the Palestinians on that basis, I am sure it can be resolved,” he added.

The former PM detailed the discussions he had with Abbas and said that the Palestinian state would be based on the 1967 borders with land adjustments. He pointed out that settlements would be consolidated into three zones in the West Bank and that land swaps would be made to compensate the Palestinians for the settlement lands that remained.

Olmert noted that East Jerusalem would serve as the capital for both Israel and Palestine, and that it would include the support of nations including the US, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.

He told the J Street conference that it would require “a change in the attitude in the government of Israel. But the present government of Israel is unwilling to do it. But I think the Palestinians have to adopt themselves to this framework, also. It still can be done.”

Both Olmert and Abbas said that the goal of establishing peace between Palestinians and Israelis had been “omitted from the Israeli discourse in politics” since Netanyahu was first elected in 2009 but agreed it could be revived “with some effort.”

J Street president and founder, Jeremy Ben-Ami, said that the two-state solution was “the only solution,” and that the priorities must be to stop the “creeping annexation” of the West Bank and expansion of the settlements.

He added that he did not believe that negotiations could start under the current political climate in Israel.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Hadash party and member of the Joint List in the Knesset, told conference attendees that “laws can be undone,” and that a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders “can be done.”

But similar to Olmert and Abbas, Odeh said he did not expect much progress while Netanyahu continued to offer limited equality to Palestinian Arab citizens.

Odeh urged Israeli society to “topple Netanyahu’s corrupt reign and build democracy that works for all of us.”

He added: “We are the hope … the wrench that will stop the machinery of division and fear. We are the Arabs and the Jews who refuse to be enemies.”

The Israeli administration remains in turmoil having held four elections since April 2019, all of which have resulted in weak and indecisive governments led by Netanyahu.

Speakers at the J Street conference said that if Netanyahu failed to form a ruling coalition to run the country, the person most likely to take his place was Naftali Bennett, who embraces many of Netanyahu’s extremist anti-peace platforms but was more willing to form coalitions with centrist political organizations.


Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’

Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’
Updated 19 April 2021

Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’

Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’
  • The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief has been left hanging by a thread since the US withdrew from the pact in 2018
  • Diplomats from the parties to the deal — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and China — have been meeting in Vienna since early this month

VIENNA: A Russian diplomat taking part in talks to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal said Monday that the negotiations had entered “the drafting stage” though solutions to some of the issues were “still far away.”
The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief has been left hanging by a thread since the US withdrew from the pact in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, prompting Tehran to in turn step up its nuclear activities.
Diplomats from the parties to the deal — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and China — have been meeting in Vienna since early this month to find a way to get the pact back on track with US participation under the new Joe Biden administration.
“Summing up the results of two weeks of deliberations on JCPOA restoration we can note with satisfaction that the negotiations entered the drafting stage,” Russian ambassador to Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter, referring to the acronym of the deal’s formal name.
“Practical solutions are still far away, but we have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps toward the goal,” he added.
The EU, Russia and Iran all hailed progress at the talks Saturday following an attack on the Natanz nuclear facility, which Iran blamed on arch-foe Israel.
On Friday, Tehran also announced that it was producing uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, taking the country closer to the 90-percent level required for use in a nuclear weapon and far above the threshold allowed by the deal.
Iran has said it will reverse steps taken so far if the US lifts sanctions imposed under the administration of former president Donald Trump.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Fox News on Sunday that the US wanted to be sure of Iran’s compliance.
“The United States is not going to lift sanctions, unless we have clarity and confidence that Iran will fully return to compliance with its obligations under the deal that it will put a lid on its nuclear program,” he said.
Iran delegation head Abbas Araghchi said Saturday that “a new agreement is taking shape” but warned that it won’t be easy.
“We think that negotiations have reached a stage that the parties can start working on a joint text. The writing of the text can start, at least in the fields with a consensus,” he said.
“There are still serious disagreements that must be reduced during future negotiationSwitch to plain text editors,” he added.


Palestinians injured during clashes in Jerusalem

Palestinians injured during clashes in Jerusalem
Updated 19 April 2021

Palestinians injured during clashes in Jerusalem

Palestinians injured during clashes in Jerusalem
  • Police said they made three arrests after the Jerusalem clashes
  • The Palestinian Red Crescent said four people in the crowd were wounded
JERUSALEM: Four Palestinians were injured in clashes with Israeli police in annexed east Jerusalem, the Palestinian Red Crescent said Monday, after officers cordoned off a popular gathering spot for Ramadan crowds.
Separately in the historically Arab Jaffa district of Tel Aviv, residents assaulted a rabbi seeking to acquire land for housing for Jewish seminary students in a predominantly Arab neighborhood, prompting clashes with police.
Police said they made three arrests after the Jerusalem clashes, during which they used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a large crowd gathered outside one of the gates to the walled Old City, video posted on Twitter showed.
Police said the crowd attacked officers with stones and firecrackers but caused no casualties.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said four people in the crowd were wounded.
During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when the faithful fast from dawn to dusk, the promenade around the walls of the Old City is a popular place for Palestinians to gather after dark.
Two far-right lawmakers — Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Religious Zionism alliance — visited police deployed outside the Old City on Sunday night.
“We need zero tolerance, an iron fist and to bring all the perpetrators to justice,” Smotrich tweeted.
In Jaffa, the unrest began when residents assaulted the head of a Jewish seminary, Rabbi Eliyahu Mali, police said, adding that they had arrested two suspects in their thirties.
After the assault, groups of Jaffa residents faced off with seminary students in the streets. Police in riot gear and on horseback rode through the neighborhood, where residents set off firecrackers and clouds of smoke hung in the air.
Police said officers were attacked with stones and firecrackers and two were injured. Three people were arrested.
The seminary’s director, Moshe Sendovich, told Israeli public radio that he and Mali had been touring a possible site for student housing when the alleged assault took place.
He said he and Mali were hit, slapped and kicked, and the rabbi’s glasses were thrown.
Sendovich said that the seminary, in the predominantly Arab Ajamni neighborhood of Jaffa, was part of an effort to boost the local Jewish community.
“The Jewish communities in Jaffa got weaker, and got thinner and we came to strengthen them,” he said.
Lawmaker Sami Abu Shehadeh, an Arab resident of Jaffa, said the seminary’s promoters were seeking to change the character of the neighborhood.
“These are people who have an ideology that is dangerous to a mixed city,” he said.