LONDON: The Arab Ministerial Quartet Committee met on Wednesday to discuss developments in the crisis with Iran and ways to address interference by Tehran in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
Osama bin Ahmed Naqli, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt and permanent representative to the Arab League, represented the Kingdom on behalf of Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.
The meeting, which took place in Cairo on the sidelines of the 155th session of the Arab League Council, was chaired by UAE Minister of State Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar. The other participants included Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, and Bahrain’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Al-Dossary.
They discussed “ways to enhance cooperation and joint coordination to confront Iranian terrorist practices and combat its terrorist arms that spread havoc and destruction, disrupt development and prosperity, and threaten regional and international security and stability,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
They also reviewed “the importance of strengthening work with the international community to stop the Iranian nuclear program, which threatens international peace and security in the region and the world.”
Desert Storm: 30 years on
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
Libyan factions face international call to step up peace process
Arab League, African Union, EU and UN call for accelerated efforts to improve security and fully implement ceasefire
UN chief Antonio Guterres says urgent and immediate action is needed or window of opportunity might be lost
Updated 21 April 2021
The international Libya Quartet on Tuesday urged authorities in the country to step up their efforts to improve the security situation and build confidence, to help bring peace to the country and fully implement the ceasefire agreement.
The members of the Quartet — the League of Arab States, the African Union (AU), the EU and the UN — said they are ready to help with the 5+5 Joint Military Commission’s plans for a “robust, credible and effective” ceasefire monitoring mechanism.
On Friday the UN Security Council unanimously voted to send up to 60 international monitors to Libya to oversee the ceasefire, which was agreed in October between the two rival factions in the East and West of the country. Operational and logistical preparations for the mission are under way.
Speaking at the sixth meeting of the Libya Quartet, which was convened on Tuesday by the League of Arab States, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the monitoring team will initially be a “nimble” presence in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, but expand over time.
He also made it clear that after years of violence and suffering there is a window of opportunity for peace “but urgent and immediate actions are needed to make use of this narrow window.”
In a joint statement issued after the meeting, the Quartet members called for the “immediate and unconditional” withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from the country as a prerequisite for fully restoring Libyan sovereignty and preserving national unity.
They also condemned continual violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya, and the threat posed by armed groups and militias. They called for “the sustained implementation of measures to fully identify and dismantle these groups, and ensure the subsequent reintegration of those individuals meeting the requirements into national institutions as outlined in the ceasefire agreement … without delay.”
The meeting also included discussion of the possible deployment of AU, EU and Arab League observer missions, “at the request of Libya’s authorities, and if the requisite conditions on the ground permit,” to assist the National Elections Commission in its preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for December.
The importance of the elections taking place in “a favorable political and security environment, so that they are held in an inclusive, transparent and credible manner and where all Libyans commit to respect their results and integrity” was emphasized.
Participants also encouraged Libya’s new Government of National Unity, and other relevant institutions, to uphold their commitment to appoint women to at least 30 percent of senior executive positions, and to promote a national, rights-based reconciliation across the country.
Yemen launches first round of COVID-19 vaccination campaign
The 12-day campaign was launched in the temporary capital Aden and 13 Yemeni governorates
The campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts
Updated 21 April 2021
RIYADH: Yemen launched the first round of its COVID-19 inoculation campaign on Tuesday in the temporary capital, Aden.
The campaign is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief).
Yemeni Minister of Public Health and Population Qasim Buhaibeh, Minister of Civil Service and Insurance Abdul Nasser Al-Wali, Governor of Aden Ahmed Hamed Lamlas, Yemen’s representative for UNICEF Philippe Duamelle, and director of the WHO office in Aden Noha Mahmoud all received the vaccine in a show of support, Saba News Agency reported.
Yemen received 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 31, part of a consignment from COVAX expected to total 1.9 million doses this year.
Buhaibeh said this was the first step toward reaching the ministry’s goal of administering 12 million vaccines by the end of the year, urging doctors, the elderly and those with chronic diseases to register to receive the jab.
Duamelle said frontline workers, the elderly and those with certain health problems would be prioritized.
“The launch of the campaign against the coronavirus is an important day in Yemen’s history,” he said, adding that the health minister and other ministers have taken the vaccination confirming its safety.
The 12-day campaign aims to reach 317,363 people in 133 districts across 13 Yemeni governorates under the control of the internationally recognized government.
There has been a dramatic spike in coronavirus infections in Yemen since mid-February, further straining a health system battered by the conflict.
The government’s health ministry has previously said the COVAX vaccines will be free, and distributed across the country. COVAX is co-led by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the WHO to provide COVID vaccines to low-income countries.
Tuesday’s rollout covered only government-held parts of the country, said Ishraq Al-Seba’ei who is with the government’s emergency coronavirus committee. But she said 10,000 doses were being sent to Sanaa via the WHO.
Yemen’s emergency coronavirus committee registered 42 confirmed cases and six deaths on Tuesday. It has recorded 5,858 coronavirus infections and 1,132 deaths so far though the true figure is widely thought to be much higher as the war has restricted COVID-19 testing.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia, which controls the capital Sanaa and much of the north have provided no figures since a couple of cases last May.
Meanwhile, KSrelief said it has provided support for protection projects within Saudi Arabia’s grant for the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan 2020.
The center cooperated with UNICEF to provide protection services by enabling children and their families to access psychosocial support and mental health services, totaling $4 million. (With Reuters)
A grab of a videoconference screen of an engineer inside Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment plant, shown during a ceremony headed by the country's president on Iran's National Nuclear Technology Day, in the capital Tehran. (AFP/File Photo)
Shadow war no more: The tussle between Iran and Israeli spy agency Mossad
Natanz nuclear plant sabotage lays bare vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of own population
Analysts say Tehran’s tepid response is a sign of its desperation for sanctions relief above all else
Updated 21 April 2021
LONDON: Analysts have said that the blast that struck Iran’s most critical nuclear facility on April 11 is another significant event in a decades-long shadow war between Tehran and its regional adversary Israel.
They say the sabotage has not only exposed Iran’s vulnerability to betrayal at the hands of its own population, but its tepid response has revealed its desperation for sanctions relief above all else.
Unnamed intelligence officials from Mossad told Israeli media and the New York Times last week that the mysterious Natanz explosion was their handiwork. And, according to Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, it is a continuation of the spate of blasts, blackouts, and fires that swept across the Islamic Republic last year — but with one major difference.
“What has changed from last year is how public it is. (Israel) is ready to take responsibility. From a shadow war it has moved to the forefront,” Mekelberg told Arab News.
“This confrontation has been taking place for two decades now, at least. Cyberattacks, assassinations of scientists, attacks on ships — this is something that is ongoing. What you have seen in the last year or so is that it is becoming open, from covert to overt.”
In the past year alone, Iran has been rocked by a relentless series of attacks, assassinations, and sabotages. The country’s top nuclear scientist was killed in a sophisticated attack.
Their entire nuclear archives were stolen and smuggled out of the country, and nuclear, military, and logistics sites across the country have suffered from a series of mysterious setbacks.
According to Mekelberg, these incidents have not only hindered Iran’s economy and nuclear program, but also exposed a fundamental weakness in the regime.
“They have a real issue inside their nuclear program,” he said. “The idea that their top scientist, they couldn’t protect him, and that someone managed to take your nuclear archives out of the country — that is not something you can simply put in your pocket.”
Iranian state television named 43-year-old Iranian national Reza Karimi as the prime suspect in the April sabotage — but said he had already fled the country in the hours before the blast occurred.
Mekelberg and other experts believe the involvement of an Iranian national is indicative of the regime’s core vulnerability: Turncoats within its population, and even within the nuclear program itself.
* $40 - Price per barrel of oil used in Iran’s budget calculations.
* 300,000 - Estimated oil exports in barrels per day (bpd) in 2020.
* 2.8m - Iranian oil exports in bpd in 2018.
“They have a real issue with security. I assume that the more things like this happen, the more paranoid they become about who they can trust, who is working with foreign agencies. Obviously, someone is,” Mekelberg said.
Olli Heinonen, a non-proliferation expert and distinguished fellow at the Washington-based Stimson Center, believes the sophistication of the Natanz attack means there is little doubt that local collaborators from within the regime enabled it.
“Those who have designed and executed these actions have insider information and highly likely local contributors,” Heinonen told Arab News.
Like Mekelberg, Heinonen highlighted Iran’s apparent ineptitude in defending even its most critical nuclear facilities and pointed to the stark contrast between the country’s record and another global pariah state’s nuclear program.
“It is worth noting that we have not heard about similar incidents in North Korea,” he said. “It is evident that the (Iranian) security forces have not been able to protect the assets as the leadership had expected.
“This does not come as a surprise. Not all Iranians, including technical professionals, buy the reasonability of the enrichment efforts, the investments for which could be used better elsewhere, even within the nuclear program.”
Tehran has admitted that the attacks caused serious damage at the Natanz facility. Last week, Alireza Zakani, a regime hardliner who heads the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in an interview on state television.
“From a technical standpoint, the enemy’s plan was rather beautiful,” the head of the Iranian parliament’s energy committee said. “They thought about this and used their experts and planned the explosion so both the central power and the emergency power cable would be damaged.”
Heinonen said the attacks have “certainly slowed production” of 20 percent enriched uranium, which is above the enrichment level needed for nuclear power, but far below the 90 percent required for weapons-grade uranium.
However, he cautioned that production could begin to ramp up again within three months of the attack, and Tehran’s promise to begin enriching uranium to 60 percent in response to the attack could act as a springboard toward rapid development of a nuclear bomb.
“In a short term (60 percent enrichment) does not contribute much to breakout time, but it demonstrates the fact that uranium enrichment is mainly designed to build a nuclear latency; to be in a position to relaunch in short interval a full nuclear weapon acquisition program, if such a decision is made,” he said.
The response to the attacks is part of a delicate balancing act by Tehran, according to Nader Di Michele, an Iran-focused analyst at political risk consultancy Prelia.
“They do not want escalations but the government has to show a response in terms of its foreign policy. That could be aimed at international actors or even its domestic population,” he told Arab News.
Beyond increasing uranium enrichment, it was reported that unknown actors targeted an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the following days. However, Di Michele thinks the damage caused by that attack was, by design, minimal compared with the devastation caused by the Natanz attack.
“There always has to be a response to these attacks, but I think the Iranian delegation understands that there is a limit to what they can do if they want sanctions relief.”
Di Michele said if the ongoing negotiations in Vienna prompt a lifting of sanctions and release of various assets that, in turn, deliver a financial boost to the regime, “we can never be sure what proportion of that would go to support which activities.”
He added: “It can be assumed that a proportion of those assets released would go toward foreign policy activities. What those entail, I couldn’t speculate on.”
Turkey logs highest daily COVID-19 deaths since pandemic started -data
Turkey registered its highest daily toll of 346 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday
Total cases stood at 4,384,624 while the total death toll rose to 36,613
Updated 20 April 2021
ISTANBUL: Turkey recorded 346 deaths from COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Tuesday, registering the highest daily death toll since the beginning of the pandemic.
The data also showed the country recorded 61,028 new coronavirus cases in the same period.
The total number of cases stood at 4,384,624 while the total death toll rose to 36,613, according to the data.
Turkey currently ranks fourth globally in the number of daily cases based on a seven-day average, according to a Reuters tally.
Karmousa, named after an Algerian delicacy, relies on social media platforms to promote and market its products
Updated 20 April 2021
GAZA: Warda Erbee and other women are busy preparing Ramadan foods and sweets in a Gaza Strip kitchen.
Erbee and her colleagues work in Karmousa Kitchen, from the Baraem Development Association, for about seven hours a day to cater for the increased demand during the fasting month.
Erbee, who joined the team in 2017, became the main breadwinner for her family after her husband lost his job due to the pandemic.
She works every day, from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“We work throughout the year at a normal pace, but work increases significantly in the blessed month of Ramadan as the demand is greater for items related to this month, specifically the kubba and sambousak,” she said.
The kitchen’s stand-out offering the rest of the year is the maftool, which is made from wheat or white flour and has earned the satisfaction and admiration of customers.
Karmousa, named after an Algerian delicacy, relies on social media platforms to promote and market its products.
The goal of the Baraem Development Association when launching this project was to help marginalized women cope with poor living conditions.
Kitchen manager Khetam Arafat said that while work did not stop throughout the year, its production doubled during Ramadan and provided additional job opportunities for poor women.
Women shared the work among themselves, with each group undertaking a specific task that they must finish in the shortest period of time.
They need to maintain high levels of accuracy and quality to meet the demands of customers, maintain the position of their products in the market and compete with other factories and kitchens.
According to Arafat, the kitchen’s most famous products are the vegetable and cheese-stuffed sambousak and the Syrian kibbeh made of bulgur and stuffed with minced meat.
“Preparing for Ramadan begins days before in order to meet the demands received by the kitchen and to produce large quantities of items that are in high demand and consumption during this month.”
Despite the emergency conditions resulting from the pandemic, Arafat believed that the demand for Ramadan appetizers and sweets was in line with the annual average.
“Because of an increase in demand this year, the number of female workers has doubled from five to 10, and the number depends on the quality and quantity of the orders.”
From the middle of Ramadan until its end, work in Karmousa is focused on making cakes and maamoul, which are sweets associated with Eid Al-Fitr.
But Arafat feared that an increase in COVID-19 infections in Gaza may lead to a comprehensive closure and inflict heavy losses on the kitchen and all economic sectors.