Egypt, Jordan and Iraq summit rescheduled

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein (C) speaks accompanied by Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) and Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (L) during a joint news conference after their meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, March 29, 2021. (AP)
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein (C) speaks accompanied by Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) and Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (L) during a joint news conference after their meeting in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, March 29, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 30 March 2021

Egypt, Jordan and Iraq summit rescheduled

Egypt, Jordan and Iraq summit rescheduled
  • The ministers discussed economic cooperation, ways to enhance ties, and the latest regional and international developments
  • After Gulf normalization, pact ‘necessary to promote Amman’s interests,’ analyst says

AMMAN: The foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq met in Baghdad on Monday to reschedule a leaders summit following the event’s postponement last Saturday due to a train accident in Egypt that killed 19 people.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II called Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to highlight the importance of building a network “complementary to the needs of the people” of the three countries.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said he discussed with Ayman Safadi and Sameh Shoukry, his counterparts from Jordan and Egypt respectively, several aspects of joint economic cooperation. He added that they also talked about strengthening and developing cooperation in the urban and industrial fields, and ways to facilitate the granting of entry visas to citizens of each other’s countries.

They also discussed economic, regional and international issues of common concern, including recent developments in a number of regional issues including the Palestinian situation, the conflict in Syria, the war on terror, and the crises in Yemen and Libya, according to a joint statement.

Shoukry said that Cairo is looking forward to the leaders’ summit taking place as soon as possible to help enhance cooperation between the three countries, in particular in the fields of energy, health, construction, reconstruction, agriculture, pharmaceuticals and food.

Safadi said the security and stability of Iraq is necessary for the security of the region, and that his country stands by Iraq in its efforts to restore stability and rebuild. He added that he hopes the leaders’ summit will be “effective” in enhancing joint cooperation.

Oraib Rantawi, director of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, told Arab News that the upcoming summit is important because it will bring benefits for all countries in the region.

“The benefits in terms of energy cooperation and an electric network, rebuilding plans for Iraq, building a major highway allowing for the movement of workers and setting up free tax areas will help all regional countries.” Rantawi said.

Despite Palestine not being part of the coalition at present, there is “no reason why they will not be included later once they can find ways to avoid Israeli obstacles,” Rantawi added.

Wafa Bani Mustafa, head of the Alliance of Female Arab Parliamentarians, said that a unifying agreement between countries in the region is useful and necessary.

“But we have had bad experiences in the past and hopefully we have bypassed those. Can we open up with Baghdad without making a decision about Iran and the return of the Jordanian ambassador to Tehran?”

Mustafa said that the upcoming summit should be seen in a “positive way,” despite the public “being uneasy because of failures and a lack of credibility in past agreements.”

The former Jordanian MP also said there is a political importance to the summit. “After the Gulf normalization with Israel, this alliance is necessary for Jordan’s highest interests.”

However, Khaled Ramadan, a former Jordanian MP and leader of the Maan political movement, said that foreign interests could be pushing the agreement. “I am worried that this is not a serious effort and that the move is partly driven by the US, which has signed military agreements with all three countries.”

But Ramadan said that the pandemic has also forced countries to revisit the prospect of improved regional relations.

“If the pact is mostly economic, then I think it would be good for all three countries.”

Ramadan added that, if the pact is void of external political forces, then it would be a “good idea” for Palestine to enter into the alliance.


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.


Macron, Egypt’s El-Sisi, Jordan king to hold talks seeking Mideast cease-fire

Macron, Egypt’s El-Sisi, Jordan king to hold talks seeking Mideast cease-fire
Updated 18 May 2021

Macron, Egypt’s El-Sisi, Jordan king to hold talks seeking Mideast cease-fire

Macron, Egypt’s El-Sisi, Jordan king to hold talks seeking Mideast cease-fire

PARIS: France’s President Emmanuel Macron, his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II will hold talks Tuesday aimed at seeking a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas, the French presidency said.
El-Sisi is currently in Paris for summits on Africa while Abdullah will join by video conference, the Elysee said.
“The trilateral meeting aims above all to work for a rapid cease-fire and prevent the conflict from extending,” the presidency said.