Israeli PM cancels UAE trip, citing disagreement with Jordan

Israeli PM cancels UAE trip, citing disagreement with Jordan
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a visit at a Clalit Health Service COVID-19 vaccination centre, in an Arab-Israeli village of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem on March 9, 2021. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 March 2021

Israeli PM cancels UAE trip, citing disagreement with Jordan

Israeli PM cancels UAE trip, citing disagreement with Jordan
  • Netanyahu’s office said visit was postponed “because of difficulties in coordinating his flight in Jordanian airspace”
  • It said conflict stemmed from cancellation of Jordanian crown prince’s visit to a contested Jerusalem shrine

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it called off the Israeli leader’s visit to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, citing disagreements with the Jordanian government.
Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that “because of difficulties in coordinating his flight in Jordanian airspace the visit was postponed” until further notice. It said the conflict stemmed from the cancellation of the Jordanian crown prince’s visit to a contested shrine in Jerusalem on Wednesday “due to a disagreement over the security and protection arrangements at the site.”
Jordan serves as the custodian of Jerusalem’s holy site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount. Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II had planned to visit the holy site, but turned back at the King Hussein Bridge border crossing due to a disagreement with Israeli authorities over the number of armed escorts that could accompany him, Israeli media reported.
The Jordanian government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the issue.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the historic visit, the first by an Israeli prime minister since the establishment of bilateral relations last year, would be rescheduled with Emirati authorities. The trip was meant to cement new diplomatic ties between the Mideast nations and boost the embattled Israeli leader’s re-election hopes.
Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to Jordan, said the latest spat between Israel and Jordan reflected a deeper deterioration in relations in recent years.
“The major problem is there is no dialogue between the No. 1’s, that is the prime minister and the king of Jordan,” he said, saying the two leaders are not known to have met or spoken for at least three years.
Eran also said there is a lack of trust, highlighted by Israel’s plans last year to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israel suspended the annexation plan as part of its agreement to establish ties with the UAE, but Eran said the Jordanians remain deeply suspicious that Israel has not abandoned its intentions to annex the area.
Jordan, which is home to a large Palestinian population, considers the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the neighboring West Bank to be a key interest, and Israel’s annexation of parts of the area would make Palestinian independence all but impossible.
Israel and the Palestinian peace talks have not held substantive peace talks in over a decade.
“At the least, they need a political process and movement toward a solution,” said Eran, now a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank. “The process itself is very important to the Jordanians and when it is not there, there are certainly concerns with regard to the situation.”
Earlier in the day Netanyahu’s wife’s hospitalization cast doubt on whether the UAE trip would take place. Sara Netanyahu was hospitalized Thursday with an appendix infection at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, the hospital said.
An official in Netanyahu's office said she had felt unwell and was taken to the Hadassah Medical Center, where she will remain hospitalized for several days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
Netanyahu is locked in a tight race against a field of challengers in Israel’s fourth election in two years, and would have been sure to use the UAE trip — 12 days before Israelis go to the polls — to his own political advantage.
The UAE became the third Arab nation after Egypt and Jordan to establish formal diplomatic ties to Israel last August.
Netanyahu has cast himself as a seasoned statesman uniquely qualified to lead the nation through turbulent times. Thursday’s visit, which has been delayed several times due to coronavirus restrictions, would have possibly helped him divert attention from his upcoming corruption trial and anger over the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis.


Who is Entesar Al-Hammadi, the Yemeni model kidnapped by the Houthis?

Who is Entesar Al-Hammadi, the Yemeni model kidnapped by the Houthis?
Updated 12 April 2021

Who is Entesar Al-Hammadi, the Yemeni model kidnapped by the Houthis?

Who is Entesar Al-Hammadi, the Yemeni model kidnapped by the Houthis?
  • Al-Hammadi had drawn criticism from conservatives for posing without a hijab
  • Abduction is latest attack by militia on dissidents and liberal women

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthi militia has kidnapped Entesar Al-Hammadi, a popular Yemeni model and actress, along with two other fashionistas in the capital Sanaa, residents and local media said. 

The abduction is the latest in a string of attacks by the rebels on dissidents and liberal women in areas under Houthi control. The incident led to an angry response at home and abroad, as human rights groups and activists called for Al-Hammadi’s release.

Al-Hammadi was born to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother, and pursued her ambition to become a supermodel despite growing up in a conservative country. When she was a child, Al-Hammadi wore her mother’s clothes around the house and imitated famous models she watched on TV, saying that her parents “told me my dream of becoming a model was pie in the sky. I said that it was my dream and I would keep pursuing it,” she told Balqees TV in an interview last year.

Living in Sanaa, Al-Hammadi, who planned to enroll at a college next year, found fame when a friend, who was a professional photographer, published photos of her on social media wearing traditional Yemeni outfits, all with her in a hijab. The acclaim the images received prompted her to pose for images without a hijab, drawing criticism from conservative observers.

“I did not care about anything, since I love this profession,” she told the interviewer when asked about the criticism.

Since then she has continued to model, and also featured in two drama series on local TV. Al-Hammadi has also spoken out about her experience of racism on account of her dark skin, but has voiced her ambition to further her career, and model on international catwalks. “It would great if I was given an opportunity outside Yemen,” she said.


EU sanctions elite Iran commander over 2019 protests

EU sanctions elite Iran commander over 2019 protests
Updated 12 April 2021

EU sanctions elite Iran commander over 2019 protests

EU sanctions elite Iran commander over 2019 protests
  • EU has blacklisted Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guards, the most powerful and heavily armed security force in the country
  • About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15, 2019

BRUSSELS: The European Union has imposed sanctions on eight Iranian militia commanders and police chiefs, including the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, over a deadly crackdown in November 2019, the bloc said in its Official Journal on Monday.
The travel bans and asset freezes are the first EU sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses since 2013 and their preparation was first reported by Reuters last month.
The bloc, which also hit three Iranian prisons with asset freezes, blacklisted Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guards, the most powerful and heavily armed security force in the country.
“Hossein Salami took part in the sessions that resulted in the orders to use lethal force to suppress the November 2019 protests. Hossein Salami therefore bears responsibility for serious human rights violations in Iran,” the EU said.
About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15, 2019, according to a toll provided to Reuters by three Iranian interior ministry officials at the time. The United Nations said the total was at least 304.
Iran has called the toll given by sources “fake news.”
On March 9, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, presented a report saying Tehran used lethal force during the protests and chided it for failing to conduct a proper investigation or failing to hold anyone accountable.
Other individuals targeted with EU sanctions, which take effect on Monday, include members of Iran’s hard-line Basij militia, who are under the command of the Revolutionary Guards, and its head Gholamreza Soleimani.
Iran has repeatedly rejected accusations by the West of human rights abuses.


Lebanon extends area claimed in border dispute with Israel

Lebanon extends area claimed in border dispute with Israel
Updated 12 April 2021

Lebanon extends area claimed in border dispute with Israel

Lebanon extends area claimed in border dispute with Israel
  • Public Works Minister signed a decree amendment that would formally extend Lebanon’s claims by 1,430 square kilometers
  • Lebanon’s unilateral move likely to anger Israel and the U.S. who aren’t expected to recognize the disputed area’s extension

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s outgoing public works minister said Monday that he has signed a decree that would increase the area claimed by the Mediterranean country in a maritime border dispute with Israel.
Public Works Minister Michel Najjar told reporters that he has signed an amendment of the decree that would formally extend Lebanon’s claims by 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles).
The unilateral move by Lebanon is likely to anger Israel and the US who are not expected to recognize Beirut’s extension of the disputed area.
Lebanon and Israel began indirect talks with US mediation in October to reach a deal over the disputed area that is believed to be rich with oil and natural gas deposits. The meetings that stopped few weeks later were being held at a UN post along the border of the two nations that remain technically in a state of war.
The negotiations were the first non-security talks to be held between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations following decades of conflict. Resolving the border issue could pave the way for lucrative oil and gas deals on both sides.
In late October, the Lebanese delegation to the talks — a mix of army generals and professionals — offered a new map that pushes for an additional 1,430 square kilometers (550 square miles).
This area is to be included in Lebanese territory on top of the already disputed 860 square kilometer- (330 square mile-) area of the Mediterranean Sea that each side claims is within their own exclusive economic zones.
Najjar said, however, that the decree still required the signatures of the defense minister, prime minister and president to go into effect.
The announcement came as US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale was expected in Lebanon this week to meet Lebanese officials.
Lebanon is passing through its worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history and had plans to start drilling in search for oil and gas in the disputed area this year.
Israel has already developed offshore natural gas rigs, producing enough for domestic consumption and export abroad. Lebanon hopes that its own oil and gas discoveries will help alleviate its long-running economic troubles.
It was not immediately known how the US and Israel would respond to the Lebanese decision.


Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib

Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib
Updated 12 April 2021

Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib

Syrian regime used chemical weapons in 2018 attack on Saraqib
  • Syrian Arab Air Force used the chemical weapon chlorine in an attack on the town of Saraqib in 2018
  • OPCW previously reported that Assad’s air force used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine in two attacks on the village of Lataminah in March 2017

THE HAGUE: The Syrian regime’s air force used the chemical weapon chlorine in an attack on the town of Saraqib in 2018, the global toxic arms watchdog said on Monday after an investigation.
The report is the second by an investigations team set up by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which has the new power to apportion blame for attacks.
The OPCW said in a statement that the Investigations and Identification Team “concludes that units of the Syrian Arab Air Force used chemical weapons in Saraqib on 4 February 2018.”
“The report reached the conclusion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that, at approximately 21:22 on 4 February 2018, a military helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Force under the control of the Tiger Forces hit eastern Saraqib by dropping at least one cylinder,” the OPCW report said.
“The cylinder ruptured and released chlorine over a large area, affecting 12 named individuals.”
The team issued its first report a year ago, in which it said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air force used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine in two attacks on the village of Lataminah in March 2017.


34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM
Updated 12 April 2021

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM

34 migrants dead after boat capsizes off Djibouti: IOM
  • Survivors reported that the boat capsized in rough seas at around 4:00 am after leaving Yemen with around 60 passengers on board

DJIBOUTI: Thirty-four migrants drowned on Monday after their boat capsized off the coast of Djibouti, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, the second such accident in just over a month.
Survivors reported that the boat capsized in rough seas at around 4:00 am (0100 GMT) after leaving Yemen with around 60 passengers on board, an IOM official in Djibouti told AFP, asking not to be named.
"The migrants were being transported by people smugglers," Mohammed Abdiker, the IOM's regional director for East Africa and the Horn of Africa, added on Twitter.
"Apprehending and prosecuting people traffickers and smugglers who exploit the vulnerabilities of migrants must become a priority. Too many lives needlessly lost."
There were "many children" among the bodies found, the first official said, adding that survivors were receiving treatment from the IOM and local authorities.
The boat capsized in seas north of the Djibouti port town of Obock, a major transit point for thousands of African migrants in the region trying to reach the Gulf.
It follows a similar accident on March 4 when 20 people drowned after smugglers threw dozens of migrants overboard during a journey between Djibouti and Yemen across the Gulf of Aden.
At least 200 migrants were packed aboard that vessel when it left Djibouti. But about 30 minutes into the voyage the smugglers panicked about the weight on board, and threw 80 people into the sea before turning back towards land.
Two similar incidents in October claimed the lives of at least 50 migrants.
Every year thousands of migrants make perilous boat journeys from the Horn of Africa to war-torn Yemen, many with the aim of travelling overland to Gulf nations in search of work.
It is believed thousands of migrants are stranded in Yemen, where a years-long conflict has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced millions in what the UN calls the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
The strait which separates Djibouti from Yemen is unusual in that it sees migrants and refugees passing in both directions -- boatloads of Yemenis fleeing to Africa to escape war, while others head in the opposite direction carrying African migrants to the Arabian Peninsula in search of better opportunities.