Experts unpack Eastern Mediterranean crisis at Arab News webinar

Experts unpack Eastern Mediterranean crisis at Arab News webinar
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Updated 25 March 2021

Experts unpack Eastern Mediterranean crisis at Arab News webinar

Experts unpack Eastern Mediterranean crisis at Arab News webinar
  • Virtual event marks 200 years of modern Greece and Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire
  • Greek ambassador to Saudi Arabia says his country remains committed to abiding by international laws

DUBAI: Cautious optimism has been expressed by energy experts and government officials that peace, stability and prosperity will prevail in the contested, oil-rich Eastern Mediterranean region in the future.

They were taking part in Wednesday’s Briefing Room webinar, organized by the Arab News Research & Studies Unit to observe the 200th anniversary of the 1821 Greek Revolution. Thursday marks the bicentennial of the start of Greece’s War of Independence.

Alexis Konstantopoulos, Greece’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, used the opportunity to convey his government’s commitment to abiding by international laws.

“Our position has been consistent over time in terms of adherence to international law and it won’t change in the future,” he said. “It is important to bear this in mind because it is the cornerstone of our policy, bilaterally and multilaterally.”

Konstantopoulos described Greece’s role as a positive influence in the Eastern Mediterranean region, aimed at promoting dialogue and cooperation to secure peace, security and prosperity.

To illustrate his point, he highlighted a number of maritime agreements that Greece has signed that align with the principles of good neighborly relations. He said Greece’s goal is the delimitation of maritime borders with all the neighboring countries in accordance with international law and the Law of the Sea.

“There have been very important oil and gas developments in the Eastern Mediterranean recently,” Konstantopoulos said. “Greece promotes energy cooperation among countries in the region and those of the Middle East, either at a trilateral or multilateral level.”

He said the discovery and future exploitation of the energy sources is of vital importance to regional stability given its potential for promoting cooperation. In regard to the Eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline, Greece is promoting energy connectivity with newly discovered gas fields in the region, Konstantopoulos said.

“We are working for the realization of the East Med gas pipeline, that will be linking the offshore natural gas reserves of Israel, Cyprus and Egypt through Greece to Italy and all other European Union countries,” he said.

“Energy can be used as a catalyst for peace and close cooperation among Eastern Mediterranean countries. We consider that the East Med Gas Forum is open to all countries in the region that respect the provisions of international law.”




Alexis Konstantopoulos, Greece’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

Laury Haytayan, the Middle East and North Africa director at the Natural Resource Governance Institute, concurred that the most complex issue is linked to maritime borders, not just between Turkey and Greece but between many different countries, such as Lebanon and Israel as well as Syria.

She said these issues pose challenges in terms of security to the region, as well as to the oil and gas sectors, while the new dimension of the Russian presence in the region adds another complexity to the mix.

“There is a lot of potential in the Eastern Mediterranean,” she said. “But, at the same time, you have a lot of problems and complexities you need to deal with altogether and avoid alienating parties or playing divisive cards.”

For his part, Alexandros Zachariades, head of research for 89 London, an LSE-based think tank and an expert on the Eastern Mediterranean, said the withdrawal of America from the region, especially during the Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations, has created a vacuum that has coincided with an expanded Russian presence.

Keeping Greek-Turkish tensions in mind, he said Washington’s regional role will be key.




A handout photo released by the Greek National Defense Ministry on August 26, 2020 shows ships of the Hellenic Navy taking part in a military exercise in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, on August 25, 2020. (AFP/Greek Defense Ministry/File Photo)

“Currently and luckily, Greece and Turkey are talking to each other. The ongoing negotiations mean tensions are low, but they will not lead to any sort of breakthrough in solving the maritime issue that they have had since the 1970s,” Zachariades said.

“The US is now the only party that can keep those two sides talking and also push them to find solutions on the issue of Cyprus.”

Looking to the future, Haytayan said the East Med Gas Forum should stay focused on energy and not get distracted by politics. She pointed out that the platform is seen by Turkey as a political entity opposed to its oil and gas ambitions in the region. And that the Palestinian minister recently vetoed the UAE’s request for membership.

“This was overshadowed by other good news happening in the region,” she said. “If this mentality continues of using the platform for political scoring, automatically the forum will lose its value even though there is an economic value to it.”

She said the East Med Gas Forum can cater to the regional energy market, with the demand for gas increasing from 0.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) per month to 0.6 Tcf and supply not keeping pace. To this end, she said the forum can play the role of a crucial platform for regional countries to come together to build a common infrastructure and frame appropriate oil and gas policies.


Libya launches public vaccination drive

Libya launches public vaccination drive
A health worker prepares to administer the AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine to a man, in Tripoli, Libya, April 17, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 17 April 2021

Libya launches public vaccination drive

Libya launches public vaccination drive
  • The AstraZeneca doses were delivered through the Covax program for lower and middle-income countries

TRIPOLI: Libya on Saturday launched its coronavirus vaccination campaign for the general population in Tripoli, with the elderly and healthcare workers given priority in the conflict-hit North African nation.
Those over 70 would get the AstraZeneca jab while the Russian Sputnik V vaccine would be administered to medical personnel and those aged 50-60, the National Center for Disease Control said.
NCDC head Badreddine Al-Najjar said the vaccines would be distributed across Libya “in the coming days,” adding that China’s Sinovac jab would also be available.
Libya has so far received 400,000 doses, including 200,000 Sputnik V shots, 57,600 AstraZeneca jabs and 150,000 from Turkey thought to be China’s Sinovac.
The AstraZeneca doses were delivered through the Covax program for lower and middle-income countries.
Since the pandemic emerged last year, there have been 171,131 confirmed COVID cases in Libya, including 2,882 deaths, out of a population of seven million, officials say.
On Saturday, dozens of men and women wore face masks and sat on chairs that were spread out to ensure physical distancing in the courtyard of a vaccination center in Tripoli as they waited to get a jab.
Libyan authorities have appealed on the general population, including illegal migrants, to register for vaccination and set up an electronic portal in March for that purpose.


Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor

Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor
Jarisha is made from roasted crushed wheat with added salt and spices. It is placed in a bowl over low heat and stirred well until it reaches a firm consistency. It is usually served with lamb cooked with yogurt. (Supplied)
Updated 18 April 2021

Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor

Gaza man winning hearts by donating traditional food to the poor
  • Due to high rates of poverty and unemployment, many initiatives have sprung up to encourage charitable acts in the past few years, with the most popular being preparation of traditional varieties of Palestinian food for donation

GAZA CITY: Muhannad Al-Heiqi was unaware of jarisha before tasting it last Ramadan after receiving a plate from his neighbor Walid Al-Hattab, who cooks it voluntarily for the people of the Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza.
But after discovering the “comfortable” taste of the dish, Al-Heiqi is ensuring that jarisha is present at the iftar table during this year’s Ramadan.
Jarisha is made from roasted crushed wheat with added salt and spices. It is placed in a bowl over low heat and stirred well until it reaches a firm consistency. It is usually served with lamb cooked with yogurt.
Younger generations in Gaza have never encountered the traditional Palestinian food that was popular before the Nakba.
But some Palestinian families in Jerusalem and West Bank are leading a revival, and now prepare it for Ramadan and wedding celebrations.
Al-Heiqi, 36, said that his 67-year-old father was “very happy” when presented with a dish of jarisha. He told Al-Heiqi that he had not tasted it for 30 years.
When Al-Hattab, 59, first cooked jarisha and distributed it to the poor during the month of Ramadan in 2018, he did not expect to receive great approval and demand.
Now in his fourth year of cooking the dish for Ramadan, Al-Hattab said: “The story began with me by chance and without planning, but today I am happy that I am a source of happiness for many, and I will maintain this habit every Ramadan for the rest of my life.”
Discussing his first time making the traditional food, he said: “It was a small quantity, not exceeding 3 kilograms of wheat. I did not know how to distribute it or whether it would satisfy people. However, I was surprised by a great turnout upon its completion, and it was sufficient at that time to feed 10 families.”
In Ramadan the following year, Al-Hattab came more prepared, filling a large container with enough jarisha to feed 100 families. The year after that, he fed 220 families. He also delivers meals sufficient for iftar and suhoor to 100 people in elderly households, and bears all the costs.
Words of praise and approval have motivated Al-Hattab to develop his charitable idea.
“I felt overjoyed when Al-Heiqi told me that his father was happy and that he had been longing to taste jarisha for a long time, but that his family could not make it,” he said.
Because it is “a dish from the time of the grandfathers,” Al-Hattab said that he is keen to encourage a revival and bequeath knowledge of the dish to his sons and daughters. He described jarisha as a nutritious and comfortable meal that is beneficial for people fasting during Ramadan.
Al-Hattab has three children who share the task of cooking jarisha and distributing it to poor residents in the neighborhood. They work daily from afternoon until iftar.
Due to high rates of poverty and unemployment, many initiatives have sprung up to encourage charitable acts in the past few years, with the most popular being preparation of traditional varieties of Palestinian food for donation.


IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity
Updated 17 April 2021

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

IAEA confirms Iran has started enriching uranium to 60% purity

VIENNA: Iran has started the process of enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at an above-ground nuclear plant at Natanz, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Saturday, confirming earlier statements by Iranian officials.

The move has complicated talks aimed at reviving Iran's nuclear deal with major powers as it is a big step towards producing weapons-grade uranium.

Iran had previously only reached 20% purity, and that was already a breach of the deal, which says Iran can only enrich to 3.67%.

Iran made the step up to 60% in response to an explosion that damaged equipment at the larger, underground Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz. Tehran has blamed Israel and named a man wanted in connection with the blast.

“The Agency today verified that Iran had begun the production of UF6 enriched up to 60%... at the (above-ground) Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.

UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.

A confidential IAEA report to member states seen by Reuters provided more details.

“According to Iran's declaration to the Agency, the enrichment level of the UF6 produced at PFEP was 55.3% U-235. The Agency took a sample of the produced UF6 for destructive analysis to independently verify the enrichment level declared by Iran. The results of this analysis will be reported by the Agency in due course,” the report said.


Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
Ghada Aoun. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 17 April 2021

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange

Defiant Lebanese judge stages second raid on money exchange
  • Prosecutor’s stand sparks calls for judiciary to ‘rise up against corruption’

BEIRUT: Controversial Lebanese judge and Mount Lebanon state prosecutor Ghada Aoun carried out a second raid on a money exchange in northern Lebanon on Saturday in defiance of a senior judiciary decision dismissing her from an investigation into possible currency export breaches.

Aoun was accompanied by several activists from the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) during the raid on the money exchange in the Awkar district in northern Lebanon.

Less than 24 hours earlier she raided the office with members of the security services.

Aoun remained in the money exchange for several hours on Friday in protest at her dismissal by the the discriminatory Public Prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, a decision that caused widespread anger among the Lebanese public.

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

After the meeting Najm voiced her anger at the situation regarding the judiciary, saying that she refuses to be “a false witness to the decay of the judiciary and the fall of the fig leaf in this state.”

Najm said the events involving Aoun are an indication of “the failure of state institutions.”

Lebanon is facing a political and economic crisis amid disputes between state officials, a deadlock that has led to the collapse of the national currency.

However, critics accuse Aoun of a lack of respect for due process.

HIGHLIGHT

Caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm held an emergency meeting on Saturday with Oweidat as well as Supreme Judicial Council head Judge Suhail Abboud and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Borkan Saad.

There are six criminal cases and 28 complaints against her before the Judicial Inspection Authority — the largest number of cases filed against any judge in the history of the Lebanese judiciary.

Aoun was investigating the Mecattaf money exchange company and Societe Generale Bank for allegedly withdrawing dollars from the market and shipping the funds abroad.

The Supreme Judicial Council dismissed Aoun along with two other judges who had previously been suspended by the Disciplinary Council for Judges.

Judge Oweidat on Friday asked the Director-General of State Security, Maj. Gen. Antoine Saliba, to suspend the officers who accompanied Aoun on the exchange office raid.

People in Lebanon on Friday watched on TV as Aoun requested that the money exchange office be sealed because the owner, Michel Mecattaf, refused to provide her with details of currency transfers on behalf of banks.

Earlier, Mecattaf’s agents informed Aoun that she had been dismissed from the case.

Aoun remained alone for hours inside the office after state security personnel left. A medical team checked on her after her blood pressure rose, and she left the premises soon after. Later she stepped on to the balcony of her home to wave to FPM supporters, who gathered outside to offer support.

After Aoun’s second raid on Saturday, the head of the Mecattaf financial company accused her supporters of “breaking into private property by force.”

Mecattaf described the case as “eminently political,” saying that he is “a witness and not a convict.”

Najm described the events as “unacceptable.”

“I am not in a position to please this political party or that team. We want an effective and independent judiciary. The problem is not the laws — oversight and accountability have been absent for years,” she said.

Najm also said that “the judiciary is incapable of fighting corruption,” and called on judges to “rise up against this reality.”

She added: “There is a lack of confidence in the judiciary, and this is a major insult.”

Retired General Prosecutor Hatem Madi told Arab News: “Judge Oweidat’s decision shows that some judges are working independently, but things must be put to rights. Regardless of whether Oweidat’s decision was right or wrong, the public prosecution offices in Lebanon must be an integrated unit.”

The decision to dismiss Aoun revived a political dispute between the FPM and the Future Movement, the two parties in conflict over the formation of the government.

The FPM, headed by MP Gebran Bassil, said that it will “continue to expose every file related to the fight against corruption,” saluting “every judge who rightfully performs their duties despite the injustice to which they are sometimes exposed.”

The Future Movement said that “mourning for judges after encouraging them to violate laws and asking them to open discretionary files for opponents is a matter that no longer fools any of the Lebanese people.”

 


Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus
Updated 17 April 2021

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus

Qatar’s controversial cleric Qaradawi contracts coronavirus
  • His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter

LONDON: Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric based in Qatar and infamous for his controversial religious edicts, has contracted COVID-19.
“Sheikh Al-Qaradawi has been infected with the coronavirus and he is in good condition, praise be to God. He is receiving health care, reassures his followers, and asks you to pray for his recovery and good health,” his official Twitter account stated.


The news was also reported by Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu.
His son Abdul-Rahman Yusuf Al-Qaradawi confirmed that the cleric had coronavirus on Twitter and said his father had been vaccinated against the virus previously. He also requested prayers for his father.
Al-Qaradawi is 94 years old and is the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, head of the European council for Fatwa and Research and co-founder of IslamOnline.net.