Egypt and Sudan welcome UN’s support for mediation to solve GERD issue

Egypt and Sudan welcome UN’s support for mediation to solve GERD issue
Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly (L) receives his Sudanese counterpart Abdalla Hamdok in the Egyptian capital Cairo, on March 11, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 13 March 2021

Egypt and Sudan welcome UN’s support for mediation to solve GERD issue

Egypt and Sudan welcome UN’s support for mediation to solve GERD issue
  • President El-Sisi highlights depth of strategic relations and ties with people of Nile Valley
  • Egypt is supporting Sudan in light of the transitional phase it is going through, which requires other countries’ help to enhance its stability

CAIRO: Egypt and Sudan have welcomed the announcement by the UN secretary-general supporting the quartet mediation initiative to solve the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue.
According to a statement issued by the Egyptian Cabinet, the two countries are looking forward to Ethiopia’s approval of this formula.
Egypt affirmed its support for Sudan’s proposal on developing the negotiation mechanism sponsored by the African Union through the formation of an international quartet — led by the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the current president of the African Union, including the UN, the EU and the US — to mediate the negotiations.
This came during a meeting in Cairo with Abdalla Hamdok, the Sudanese prime minister, on an official visit to Egypt. A high-level delegation accompanied him.
The visit came as part of continuous consultations and visits between the two sides, the last of which was by the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to Sudan last Saturday.
President El-Sisi received Hamdok and confirmed the depth of the strategic relations and ties between the two countries and the people of the Nile Valley.
Egypt is supporting Sudan in light of the transitional phase it is going through, which requires other countries’ help to enhance its stability, development and democratic transformation.
The Egyptian and Sudanese leaders affirmed, through talks, their commitment to pushing forward bilateral cooperation in various fields.
Key areas of cooperation are expected in transferring Egyptian experiences in economic reform, training Sudanese cadres and moving forward with the implementation of the two electrical interconnection projects, raising the capacity to 240 megawatts during the coming summer, linking the railways and strengthening land, sea, river and air transport by restructuring the Nile Valley Authority for River Navigation.
They also discussed activating the permanent joint Egyptian-Sudanese technical committee, as well as developing cooperation in maritime navigation and benefiting from the countries’ ports on the Red Sea, and modernizing the services related to land transport with the aim of enhancing trade between them.
This is in addition to developing cooperation in investment, providing an environment for establishing joint investment projects, whether industrial or agricultural, and maximizing cooperation mechanisms in higher education, scientific research, gas, agriculture, livestock and food security.
The two parties also discussed working on holding the joint technical and commercial committee at the earliest opportunity and discussing ways to activate cooperation in the field of small and medium enterprises.
They are likely to focus on transformative food industries and the meat industry and agreeing to exchange visits by businessmen from the two countries, and finalizing the area designated for the establishment of an Egyptian industrial zone in Sudan.
They also agreed to activating memoranda of understanding and protocols concluded between the two countries and discussing joint projects with the aim of following up on the time plan for their implementation or completing the existing ones.
The two sides emphasized the importance of reaching a binding legal agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD in a way that achieves the interests of the three countries and limits damages to the two downstream countries.
The two countries also affirmed that they have the political will to achieve this goal at the earliest possible opportunity.
They also called on Ethiopia to engage in an effective negotiation process to reach an agreement.
The two countries also welcomed the leadership of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the negotiations.


UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot
Updated 18 May 2021

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot
  • The move is part of the UAE's "proactive strategy to provide maximum protection for society”
  • The country of some 9 million has vaccinated around 73% of the eligible population

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates said on Tuesday it would offer a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine from China’s state-owned drug-maker Sinopharm for those who have already received two doses.
The move is part of the UAE’s “proactive strategy to provide maximum protection for society,” the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said, with priority given to those aged above 60 or suffering a chronic disease.
The country of some 9 million has vaccinated around 73 percent of the eligible population, NCEMA said. The UAE is providing four vaccines for free but does not provide a breakdown for each one.
The UAE, a regional business and tourism hub, on Tuesday reported 1,270 new coronavirus infections to take the total to 548,681 cases with 1,637 deaths.
The World Health Organization, which last week approved Sinopharm for emergency use, has said a large Phase III trial of Sinopharm had shown that two doses, administered at an interval of 21 days, have an efficacy of 79 percent against symptomatic infection, 14 or more days after the second dose.
The UAE has started manufacturing the Chinese vaccine under a joint venture between Sinopharm and Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42.


Fuel price hike sparks deadly Syria Kurd protests

Fuel price hike sparks deadly Syria Kurd protests
Updated 18 May 2021

Fuel price hike sparks deadly Syria Kurd protests

Fuel price hike sparks deadly Syria Kurd protests
  • Kurdish administration that oversees large swathes of Syria's northeast said Monday it was doubling and tripling the cost of fuel
  • Clashes broke out when protesters and gunmen stormed a base in Shadadi belonging to Kurdish security forces

QAMISHLI: A decision to hike fuel prices sparked protests across Kurdish-held parts of northeastern Syria on Tuesday that turned violent and left at least one demonstrator dead, a monitor said.
The Kurdish administration, which oversees large swathes of Syria’s northeast, said on Monday that it was doubling and in some cases tripling the cost of fuel.
On Tuesday, dozens of people took to the streets in the city of Qamishli and other areas calling on the authorities to reverse the price hike, AFP correspondents reported.
Clashes broke out when protesters and gunmen stormed a base in the town of Shadadi belonging to Kurdish security forces, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
One protester was killed and five others were wounded in the exchange of fire, said the Britain-based monitor.
The price hike saw the cost of diesel climb to 400 Syrian pounds (30 US cents at the official exchange rate) per liter from 150 and petrol to 410 pounds per liter from 210.
Cannisters of gas used in homes are now selling for 8,000 pounds, up from 2,500.
The price hikes come on top of an accelerating economic crisis that has weakened the value of the pound and plunged wide segments of Syria’s population into poverty.
“The Kurdish administration was forced to raise prices because the previous ones didn’t cover the cost of production,” said Sadiq Al-Khalaf, a Kurdish administration official.
Kurds control some of Syria’s largest gas and oil fields but authorities are not producing enough oil and gas to meet the demand.
Heating fuel, petrol and cooking gas have been in short supply in recent months and motorists have grown used to waiting in long queues to fill up.
Regional authorities have not explained the reason behind the shortage.
Amid protests, regime loyalists in the city of Hassakeh — parts of which are controlled by government forces — attacked a Kurdish security forces position, according to the Observatory.
Three people were injured, it said.
The Kurdish Asayish security forces released a statement condemning attempts to exploit peaceful demonstrations by “attacking military and civilian” infrastructure.
“It is creating a state of chaos,” the Asayish said.
Syria used to produce almost 400,000 barrels of oil per day before its civil war erupted.
But 10 years of conflict have ravaged production, with oil sector’s losses estimated at $91.5 billion.


EU mulls ways to help defuse Israel-Palestinian fighting

EU mulls ways to help defuse Israel-Palestinian fighting
Updated 18 May 2021

EU mulls ways to help defuse Israel-Palestinian fighting

EU mulls ways to help defuse Israel-Palestinian fighting
  • EU has been united in its calls for a cease-fire and the need for a political solution to end the latest conflict
  • The biggest donor of aid to the Palestinians, the EU holds little influence over the militant group Hamas or Israel

BRUSSELS: European Union foreign ministers debated Tuesday how to use the 27-nation bloc’s political clout to help diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between the Israeli armed forces and Palestinian militants.
The EU has been united in its calls for a cease-fire and the need for a political solution to end the latest conflict — now in its second week — but the nations are divided over how best to help.
No firm decisions involving threats of sanctions or other measures are likely from the ministers’ videoconference.
At least 212 Palestinians have been killed in heavy airstrikes so far, including 61 children, and over 1,400 people wounded, Gaza’s Health Ministry said. At least 12 people in Israel, including a 5-year-old boy, have been killed in rocket attacks launched from Gaza toward civilian areas in Israel.
Israel carried out a wave of airstrikes on what it said were militant targets in Gaza, leveling a six-story building in downtown Gaza City, and Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel early Tuesday, the latest in the fourth war between the two sides.
The EU is the biggest donor of aid to the Palestinians but holds little influence over the militant group Hamas or the state of Israel, despite having some trade arrangements that are favorable to the Israelis.
Before the meeting, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that he had an exchange with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on how the United States and the bloc “can jointly contribute to end violence” and to reduce tensions.
“Looking beyond, we also need longer term initiatives to break the dynamics of conflict and revive the prospect of a peaceful future for all,” wrote Borrell, who is chairing the meeting.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed that “Israel of course has the right to defend itself” against rocket fire from Hamas.
“With its rocket terror, Hamas has deliberately escalated a situation that was already extremely tense, with terrible consequences for Israelis and for its own civilian population in Gaza,” he said.
“The weapons must finally fall silent,” Maas said. He emphasized the role of the international diplomatic Quartet, in which the EU is represented by its new Middle East peace envoy Sven Koopmans, and said “we are in favor of further expanding his mediation efforts.”
The Quartet’s other three members are the United Nations, the US and Russia.
Maas said the EU needs to look beyond ending the current violence and at how to prevent a repeat. “The EU must play a role here, in political and humanitarian terms,” he said, adding that he would press Tuesday for better humanitarian supply lines into Gaza.
“We must use our relationships with both sides to encourage confidence-building steps that could lead to calming the situation both inside Israel and in the West Bank,” he added. “Only that way will it be possible to talk again about a lasting solution to the Middle East conflict.”


US reaches out to Arab leaders on Israel, Gaza fighting

US reaches out to Arab leaders on Israel, Gaza fighting
Updated 18 May 2021

US reaches out to Arab leaders on Israel, Gaza fighting

US reaches out to Arab leaders on Israel, Gaza fighting
  • Blinken defends US decision to block what would have been a unanimous UN Security Council statement on the fighting
  • Blinken said he had spoken to the foreign ministers of Morocco and Bahrain

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his envoy reached out to Palestinian and regional Arab leaders on Tuesday as attacks between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers raged on, maintaining what the Biden administration is calling its quiet diplomacy while still declining to press for an immediate cease-fire.
Blinken, speaking during an unrelated trip focusing on Russia and Nordic countries, also defended the US decision to block what would have been a unanimous UN Security Council statement on the fighting and its civilian toll, and the overall US approach to the worst Israeli-Palestinian fighting since 2014. President Joe Biden, speaking to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, expressed general support for a cease fire but stopped short of joining dozens of Democratic lawmakers in demanding one.
“Our goal remains to bring the current cycle of violence to an end” and then return to a process in which a lasting peace can be forged, the US diplomat said.
Blinken said he had spoken to the foreign ministers of Morocco and Bahrain, two Arab countries that recently have moved to normalize relations with Israel, while US envoy Hady Amr in Israel spoke with Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The ongoing US outreach — reflecting an administration that has emphasized working with allies, and has refrained from publicly criticizing ally Israel — came as new Hamas rockets and Israeli airstrikes continued for a ninth day. At least 213 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel have died. Efforts by Egypt and others to mediate a truce have stalled.
Biden’s carefully worded statement expressing general support for a cease-fire, in a White House readout Monday of his second known call to Netanyahu in three days as the attacks pounded on, came with the administration under pressure to respond more forcefully despite its reluctance to challenge Israel’s actions in its part of the fighting. The administration also has expressed its determination to wrench the main US foreign policy focus away from Middle East hotspots and Afghanistan.
Biden’s comments on a cease-fire were open-ended and similar to previous administration statements of support in principle for a cease-fire.
Biden also “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians,” the White House said in its readout.
An administration official said the decision to express support and not explicitly demand a cease-fire was intentional. While Biden and top aides are concerned about the mounting bloodshed and loss of innocent life, the decision not to demand an immediate halt to hostilities reflects White House determination to support Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.
Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers were meeting Tuesday to discuss how to use the 27-nation bloc’s political clout to help diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between the Israeli armed forces and Palestinian militants. The EU has been united in its calls for a cease-fire and the need for a political solution to end the latest conflict, but the nations are divided over how best to help.
Netanyahu told Israeli security officials late Monday that Israel would “continue to strike terror targets” in Gaza “as long as necessary in order to return calm and security to all Israeli citizens.”
Separately, the United States, Israel’s top ally, blocked for a third time Monday what would have been a unanimous statement by the 15-nation UN Security Council expressing “grave concern” over the intensifying Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the loss of civilian lives. The final US rejection killed the Security Council statement, at least for now.
Blinken said the US was “not standing in the way of diplomacy” and that the UN statement would not have advanced the goal of ending the violence.
“If we thought and if we think that there is something, including at the United Nations that could advance the situation, we would be for it,” Blinken said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki and national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States was focusing instead on “quiet, intensive diplomacy.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday joined dozens of Democratic lawmakers — and one Republican and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders — in calling for the cease-fire by both sides. A prominent Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, the House intelligence committee chairman, pressed the US over the weekend to get more involved.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, took the Senate floor on Monday to assail lawmakers for including Israel in their demands for a cease-fire.
“To say that both sides, both sides need to de-escalate downplays the responsibility terrorists have for initiating the conflict in the first place and suggests Israelis are not entitled to defend themselves against ongoing rocket barrages,” McConnell said.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., led 19 Republican senators releasing a resolution supporting Israel’s side of the fighting. They plan to try to introduce the legislation next week.


At least 57 migrants drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

At least 57 migrants drown in shipwreck off Tunisia
Updated 18 May 2021

At least 57 migrants drown in shipwreck off Tunisia

At least 57 migrants drown in shipwreck off Tunisia
  • As weather has improved in recent weeks, drowning incidents have occurred off Tunisian coast amid increase in trips from Tunisia and Libya towards Italy
  • Security source confirmed that 57 migrants had drowned and 33 were rescued

TUNIS: At least 57 migrants drowned in a shipwreck off Tunis as they tried to cross the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy and 33 were rescued, humanitarian organization Tunisian Red Crescent said on Tuesday.
In recent weeks, drowning incidents have occurred off the Tunisian coast, with an increase in the frequency of trips to Europe from Tunisia and Libya toward Italy as the weather has improved.
“Thirty-three Bengalis were rescued (and) 57 others drowned in a boat carrying about 90 migrants that set off from Libya toward Europe,” Red Crescent official Mongi Slim told Reuters.
A security source confirmed that 57 migrants had drowned and 33 were rescued.
More than 60 migrants have died in recent weeks in similar incidents off the Tunisian coast.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR says fewer than 23,500 people have made it across the sea to Europe this year, with most new arrivals landing in Italy and Spain from Tunisia and Algeria.
The agency estimates that 633 people have died or gone missing in transit this year.