UN envoy: Hostilities along Sudan, Ethiopia border ‘deeply concerning’

UN envoy: Hostilities along Sudan, Ethiopia border ‘deeply concerning’
Refugees who fled Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict arrive by bus near the Ethiopian border at the entrance of Um Raquba refugee camp in Sudan’s eastern Gedaref state on Dec. 11, 2020. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 10 March 2021

UN envoy: Hostilities along Sudan, Ethiopia border ‘deeply concerning’

UN envoy: Hostilities along Sudan, Ethiopia border ‘deeply concerning’
  • Volker Perthes urges international community to help uphold countries’ promises of de-escalation
  • There is ‘a serious risk for miscalculation and escalation’

NEW YORK: Tensions along Sudan’s border with Ethiopia, including intermittent clashes and exchanges of heated rhetoric between the two countries, are “deeply concerning,” said the UN special envoy for Sudan.

With “reports of intensification of military operations in the border region,” there is “a serious risk for miscalculation and escalation,” Volker Perthes added, urging the international community to “build on Sudan’s and Ethiopia’s stated commitment for a diplomatic solution to support de-escalation and a peaceful resolution.”

In his first briefing to the Security Council as head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), Perthes said although the political transition in Sudan is moving forward, the formation of the legislative council and other important milestones remain to be achieved.

Established in June 2020 via resolution 2524, the overarching goals of UNITAMS are to assist the Sudanese democratic transition, protect human rights, support peace processes and the implementation of peace agreements, promote the rule of law, and mobilize economic, development and humanitarian assistance.  

The ongoing transition to democratic governance began in April 2019 when months of street protests culminated in the overthrow of dictator Omar Bashir.

Last October, a peace agreement was signed in South Sudan’s capital Juba by the Sudanese authorities and several armed groups from Darfur, ending decades of conflict that left 300,000 dead and over a million displaced, according to the UN.

The peace agreements opened the way for the integration of the three rebel groups from the Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions into the Sovereign Council, which is tasked with leading the nation into elections.

Then on Feb. 8, a power-sharing transition government was formed between civilians, the military and armed movements, under the leadership of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

Perthes, who has been in Sudan for the past five weeks, said the new government has agreed on national priorities such as addressing the collapsing economy, reforming the security sector, implementing the Juba peace agreement and resuming negotiations with the factions that have yet to sign it.  

But formation of the Transitional Legislative Council, an important milestone foreseen in the constitutional document and the Juba peace agreement, remains outstanding.

“The swift formation of an inclusive and representative Legislative Council is indeed critical to broaden the support for the political transition,” Perthes said.  

“There are fears that the gains achieved for women’s rights in the constitutional document, such as a gender commission to be established or the 40 percent (of the council’s 300 seats that should be represented by women), might not be realized. And Sudanese youth have also expressed frustration over their lack of representation,” he added, underscoring the need for an inclusive political process.

Turning to the economy, Hamdok’s message is that Sudan is becoming a country open for investment, Perthes said, hailing the government’s decision to float the Sudanese pound as “a courageous step that will unlock financial assistance, paving the way for debt relief and fostering private sector engagement.”

But the envoy warned that economic hardships are threatening Sudan’s stability as inflation stood at 304 percent in January, coupled with large trade and fiscal deficits, and high rates of unemployment and poverty.

More than 13 million Sudanese, a quarter of the country’s population, are projected to require humanitarian assistance, including about 3 million internally displaced persons.

The investors’ conference set to take place in May in Paris is meant to mobilize private foreign investment and partnerships, and boost development and job creation. Perthes urged the international community to support this and similar initiatives.


Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions

Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions
Updated 6 min 24 sec ago

Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions

Vatican nuncio in Syria urges international community to lift sanctions
  • Zenari called on the EU, the US, and Syrian government, to “take a step of good faith” and remove sanctions
  • He has convened a conference of the Syrian Catholic Church and charities, to be held in March next year

VATICAN CITY: The Vatican nuncio in Syria called on the international community to lift economic sanctions, and lamented the Syrians’ loss of hope as the world forgot their suffering. 

Cardinal Mario Zenari has been the apostolic nuncio to Syria for over 13 years and has lived in Damascus throughout the war. 

He has convened a conference of the Syrian Catholic Church and charitable agencies working in the country, to be held in March next year.

“I am extremely sorry to see that, in Syria, hope is dying,” Zenari told Vatican Radio. “I was greatly pained to watch people, especially children, die during the war. But, beyond this suffering, people nourished glimmers of hope. At that stage they said that eventually the war would end, and people would be able to go back to work, make a little money, and perhaps repair their homes and return to a normal life.”

He said this dream was far from the reality that faced Syrians today, which was one filled with poverty.

“Bombs are no longer falling in many parts of Syria, but another terrible bomb has exploded which has silently opened a gaping wound.”

Syria faced continuing economic uncertainty, largely as a consequence of the international sanctions against the government, and he believed that these, combined with growing corruption, the pandemic, and the economic and political crisis in Lebanon were placing a heavy economic burden on the Syrian population.

Zenari called on the EU and the US, along with the Syrian government, to “take a step of good faith and remove the sanctions regime, so that Syria can begin to rebuild and restart its economy.”

Referring to a recent report by the World Food Programme that said 12 million Syrians, 60 percent of the population, were living in food insecurity, he said: “It is the people, the poor people, who are suffering.”

Zenari also said there was a general lack of interest from the international media about the situation in Syria.

The conference will be held on 15-17 March, 2022, and aims to coordinate charitable activities in Syria to better serve those in need there and increase the necessary coordination to better help the Syrian people “who are living this extremely difficult moment.”


Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest winner in Iraq poll

Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest winner in Iraq poll
Updated 6 sec ago

Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest winner in Iraq poll

Moqtada Sadr's bloc declared biggest winner in Iraq poll

BAGHDAD: Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr's movement was the biggest winner in Iraq's parliamentary elections last month, winning 73 out of the 329 seats, the election commission said Tuesday.
Appeal procedures after the October 10 vote, in which pro-Iran factions had alleged voter fraud, resulted in only five seats being changed, the commission said as officials read out final results.


Two Israeli doctors infected with omicron, hospital says

Two Israeli doctors infected with omicron, hospital says
Updated 30 November 2021

Two Israeli doctors infected with omicron, hospital says

Two Israeli doctors infected with omicron, hospital says

JERUSALEM: The new coronavirus variant, omicron, has been detected in two Israeli doctors, one of whom had returned from a conference in London in the past week, a spokesperson for Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv confirmed on Tuesday.
The two doctors had received three doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, and so far have shown mild COVID-19 symptoms, the hospital said.
The physician who had returned from Britain had probably infected his colleague, it said.
Two more people have been identified in Israel as carrying the new variant, health officials have confirmed, one of them a tourist from Malawi who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Israel shut its borders to foreigners from all countries for 14 days on Saturday to try to contain the spread of omicron and has reintroduced counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to trace contacts of a handful of people who have likely been infected.
Israel hopes that within those 14 days it will better know how effective COVID-19 vaccines are against omicron. Around 57 percent of the country’s 9.4 million population is fully vaccinated.


Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open
Updated 30 November 2021

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open

Iran makes maximalist demands as Vienna nuclear talks open
  • Unclear whether this represented an opening gambit by Iran’s new hard-line president
  • It may also signal serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Iran struck a maximalist tone Tuesday after just one day of restarted talks in Vienna over its tattered nuclear deal, suggesting everything discussed in previous rounds of diplomacy could be renegotiated as Tehran demands all American sanctions be lifted.

Iranian state media reported the comments by Ali Bagheri, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, and Mohammed Eslami, the country’s civilian nuclear chief.

It remained unclear, however, whether this represented an opening gambit by Iran’s new hard-line president or signaled serious trouble for those hoping to restore the 2015 deal that saw Tehran strictly limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

The United States left the deal under then-President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran in 2018. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 60 percent purity — a short step from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Iran also spins advanced centrifuges barred by the accord, and its uranium stockpile now far exceeds the accord’s limits.

Speaking to Iranian state television, Bagheri referred to the previous rounds of talks only as a “draft.”

“Drafts are subject to negotiation. Therefore nothing is agreed on unless everything has been agreed on,” he said. “On that basis, all discussions that took place in the six rounds are summarized and are subject to negotiations. This was admitted by all parties in today’s meeting as well.”

Another state TV segment saw Bagheri in Vienna also saying Iran demanded a “guarantee by American not to impose new sanctions” or not re-impose previously lifted sanctions.

Eslami, speaking to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency, reiterated that demand.

“The talks (in Vienna) are about return of the US to the deal and they have to lift all sanctions and this should be in practice and verifiable,” he said.

Talks in Vienna resumed Monday after an over five-month hiatus as hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi took power. Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, campaigned on getting sanctions lifted. However, fellow hard-liners within Iran’s theocracy long have criticized the nuclear deal as giving too much away to the West.

Iran’s comments Tuesday stood in stark contrast to the optimistic tone offered by the European Union diplomat leading the talks.

“I feel positive that we can be doing important things for the next weeks,” Enrique Mora told reporters on Monday.

Israel, Iran’s regional, nuclear-armed rival, kept up its own pressure amid the negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a video address delivered to nations negotiating in Vienna, warned that he saw Iran trying to “end sanctions in exchange for almost nothing.”

“Iran deserves no rewards, no bargain deals and no sanctions relief in return for their brutality,” Bennett said in the video that he later posted to Twitter. “I call upon our allies around the world: Do not give in to Iran’s nuclear blackmail.”

Iran maintains its atomic program is peaceful. However, US intelligence agencies and international inspectors say Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program up until 2003. Nonproliferation experts fear the brinkmanship could push Tehran toward even more extreme measures to try to force the West to lift sanctions.

Making matters more difficult, United Nations nuclear inspectors remain unable to fully monitor Iran’s program after Tehran limited their access. A trip to Iran last week by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, failed to make any progress on that issue.


Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
Updated 30 November 2021

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa

Arab coalition targets Iran Revolutionary Guard experts in Sanaa
  • Coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites

RIYADH: The Arab coalition struck Iranian Revolutionary Guard experts in Yemen’s capital, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The coalition asked civilians in Sanaa not to gather near the targeted sites.

The operation complies with international humanitarian law and its customary rules, the coalition said.

The coalition has hit a number of sites in the capital in the past few weeks in an effort to deteriorate the capabilities of the Iran-backed Houthi militia.

Previous attacks have targeted drone warehouses and experts belonging to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The Houthis repeatedly target the Kingdom with bomb-laden drones, mostly without causing much damage because of Saudi air defenses.

Houthi attempts to target civilians has been labeled as war crimes by the Kingdom.

The Arab coalition has been supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government regain full control of the country after the Houthis seized the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Saudi Arabia has previously said that a political solution is the only way to permanent peace in Yemen. Launched in March, the Riyadh Initiative aimed to do just that. The plan includes a nationwide ceasefire and as well as of peace talks. However, the Houthi leadership has rejected the plan.

The war, which has now lasted for seven years, has cost thousands of Yemenis their lives and has forced many more to depend on humanitarian assistance.