US restores Palestinian aid with $235m package

US President Joe Biden’s administration plans to restore about $200 million in aid to Palestinians after being cut off by then-President Donald Trump, sources told Reuters. (Reuters)
US President Joe Biden’s administration plans to restore about $200 million in aid to Palestinians after being cut off by then-President Donald Trump, sources told Reuters. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 April 2021

US restores Palestinian aid with $235m package

US restores Palestinian aid with $235m package
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken reveals package that includes $150 million in humanitarian assistance for the UN relief agency
  • A further $75 million provided for economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration announced on Wednesday it would provide $235 million in US aid to the Palestinians, restarting funding for the United Nations agency supporting refugees and restoring other assistance cut off by then-President Donald Trump.
The package, including humanitarian, economic and development assistance, was detailed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken as part of an effort to repair American ties with the Palestinians that all but collapsed during Trump’s tenure.
It marked Democratic President Joe Biden’s most significant move since taking office on Jan. 20 to make good on his promise to roll back some components of his Republican predecessor’s approach that Palestinians denounced as heavily biased in favor of Israel.
The plan calls for $150 million through the United Nations relief agency UNRWA, $75 million in US economic and development assistance and $10 million for peace-building programs, Blinken said in a statement.
Biden’s aides have also signaled that they want to re-establish the goal of a negotiated two-state solution as a priority in US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But they have moved cautiously so far, and any major steps are likely to wait for the dust to clear after Israel’s inconclusive March election, which will be followed by Palestinian elections scheduled in coming months.
The Trump administration blocked nearly all aid after it severed ties with the Palestinian Authority in 2018. The move was widely seen as an attempt to force the Palestinians to negotiate with Israel on terms the Palestinian leadership branded as an effort to deny them a viable state.
The cuts came after Palestinian leaders decided to boycott the Trump administration’s peace efforts over its decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, upending decades of American policy.
This included rescinding funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which provides aid and relief services to around 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees in the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and across the Middle East.
“The United States is pleased to announce that, working with Congress, we plan to restart US economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people,” Blinken said.
Ahmed Abu Huly, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said he would be holding a Zoom meeting with US State Department official Richard Albright to express appreciation for the “very important support” and said he hoped it would continue.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said: “In respect to UNRWA, Israel’s position is that the organization in its present form perpetuates the conflict rather than helping to resolve it. Therefore, the renewal of assistance to UNRWA must be accompanied by substantial and vital changes to its nature, goals and organizational conduct.”
The United Nations welcomed the restart of UNRWA funding. “There were a number of countries that had greatly reduced to halted contributions to UNRWA. We hope that the American decision will lead others to rejoin ... as UNRWA donors,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told Reuters the new funding was “extremely welcome” but said it was also important to have the United States back as “strategic partners” politically.
Blinken said the United States was also “resuming vital security assistance programs” with the Palestinians but did not elaborate.
However, the administration is likely to hold back for now on resuming direct economic aid to the Palestinian Authority while Biden’s aides consult with Congress on potential legal obstacles, according to one person familiar with the matter. The notice to Congress assured lawmakers that all assistance would be consistent with US law.
The money that will go to UNRWA does not immediately restore contributions to the $365 million level that the United States gave to the agency in 2017.
Most of the refugees assisted by UNRWA are descendants of some 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
The growing refugee count was cited by the Trump administration in its 2018 defunding, with then-State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert criticizing UNRWA over what she called an “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries.”
Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who developed close ties with Trump, has also called for the dismantling of UNRWA.
Soon after Biden took office, his administration began laying the groundwork for restored relations with the Palestinians as well as renewed aid. Biden’s aides are crafting a more detailed plan to reset ties, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters in mid-March.
The administration announced late last month it was giving $15 million to vulnerable Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.


More than 70 dead in fighting after Syria jail attack

More than 70 dead in fighting after Syria jail attack
Updated 4 sec ago

More than 70 dead in fighting after Syria jail attack

More than 70 dead in fighting after Syria jail attack
  • Daesh launched the attack on Thursday night against the prison housing some 3,500 suspected members of the militant group
BEIRUT: Fighting raged for a third day Saturday between the Daesh group and Kurdish forces in Syria after Daesh attacked a prison housing militants, in violence that has claimed over 70 lives, a monitor said.
The assault on the Ghwayran prison in the northern city of Hasakah is one of Daesh’s most significant since its “caliphate” was declared defeated in Syria nearly three years ago.
“At least 28 members of the Kurdish security forces, five civilians and 45 members of Daesh have been killed” in the violence, said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Daesh launched the attack on Thursday night against the prison housing some 3,500 suspected members of the militant group, including some of its leaders, said the Observatory.
Hundreds of militant inmates had since been detained and around 10 were believed to have escaped, said the Observatory, a Britain-based monitor that relies on sources inside war-torn Syria for its information.
“The exceptional situation continues in and around the prison,” said Farhad Shami, spokesman for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The fighting on Saturday morning was taking place north of the prison, he added.
The militant group said in a statement released by its Amaq news agency that its attack on the jail aimed to “free the prisoners.”
Daesh has carried out regular attacks against Kurdish and government targets in Syria since the rump of its once-sprawling proto-state was overrun on the banks of the Euphrates in March 2019.
Most of their guerrilla attacks have been against military targets and oil installations in remote areas, but the Hasakah prison break could mark a new phase in the group’s resurgence.
The Kurdish authorities have long warned they do not have the capacity to hold, let alone put on trial, the thousands of Daesh fighters captured in years of operations.
According to Kurdish authorities, more than 50 nationalities are represented in a number of Kurdish-run prisons, where more than 12,000 Daesh suspects are now held.
The war in Syria broke out in 2011 and has since killed close to half a million people and spurred the largest conflict-induced displacement since World War II.

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections
Updated 22 January 2022

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections

Oman issues new COVID-19 measures due to spike in infections
  • Government units and other public entities will limit their workplace capacities to 50 percent
  • The Sultanate suspended Friday prayers but allowed mosques to remain open at a 50 percent capacity

DUBAI: Oman has updated its coronavirus precautionary measures effective for two weeks starting on Jan. 23 due to a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections.
Government units and other public entities will limit their workplace capacities to 50 percent, state news agency ONA reported.
The government has further suspended all conferences and exhibitions. Congregational activities have also been halted and organizers have been advised to hold them without audiences. Participants and organizers would now also be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
The Sultanate further suspended Friday prayers but allowed mosques to remain open at a 50 percent capacity.
The country’s Supreme Committee has called on all public establishments to stick to the measures set for their businesses, including operating at a capacity of 50 percent, requiring proofs of vaccination for customers, observing physical distancing and wearing of face masks.
Oman shifted to distance learning for all schools earlier this month for four weeks as a precaution against the spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.


US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals

US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals
Updated 22 January 2022

US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals

US Treasury imposes more sanctions on Hezbollah-linked Lebanese individuals
  • Lebanon’s economy has been in crisis since 2019 when it collapsed under a mountain of debt

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on three Lebanese nationals and 10 companies it said were part of an international Hezbollah network, accusing them of evading sanctions on the powerful group with an armed militia that is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by Washington.
The US Treasury Department in a statement said it designated Adnan Ayad, who it said was a Hezbollah member and businessman, as well as other members of an international network of facilitators and companies connected to him and his business partner, Adel Diab, who was designated by Washington on Tuesday.
Friday’s move comes after the United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on three businessmen, including Diab, with ties to Hezbollah, saying their activity as financial facilitators for the Iran-backed group was exploiting Lebanon’s economic resources at a time of crisis for that country.
“Treasury is committed to disrupting Hizballah’s illicit activity and attempts to evade sanctions through business networks while the group doubles down on corrupt patronage networks in Lebanon,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in the statement on Friday.
Lebanon’s economy has been in crisis since 2019 when it collapsed under a mountain of debt. Its currency plunged to a new low last week, and swaths of the country have been driven into poverty.
Lebanon’s Cabinet will hold its first meeting in three months next week, local media reported on Monday, after Hezbollah and another group, Amal, ended their boycott of the Cabinet over the weekend.
The two groups, which back several ministers, had been boycotting the Cabinet in a dispute over the conduct of an investigation into a huge explosion at Beirut’s port in 2020.


Coalition denies targeting detention center in Yemen

Coalition denies targeting detention center in Yemen
Updated 22 January 2022

Coalition denies targeting detention center in Yemen

Coalition denies targeting detention center in Yemen
  • Coalition blames the Iran-backed Houthi militia for spreading misinformation

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said media reports about it targeting a detention center in Saada are false.
The coalition blamed the Iran-backed Houthi militia for spreading misinformation, saying it fits the group’s usual deceptive approach.
The Coalition’s Joint Forces Command will brief the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Yemen and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about the facts and details, Al Ekhbariya reported early on Saturday.


Lebanese elections: Former PM Hariri in key meetings

Saad Hariri. (Supplied)
Saad Hariri. (Supplied)
Updated 22 January 2022

Lebanese elections: Former PM Hariri in key meetings

Saad Hariri. (Supplied)
  • Former MP and Vice-President of the Future Movement Mustapha Allouch told Arab News: “So far, we haven’t been informed of Hariri’s decision and all the other matters affiliated to that decision”

BEIRUT: Just four people have submitted their candidacies for Lebanon’s parliamentary elections planned for May since the nomination process opened on Jan. 10.
The next house of representatives will elect a new president in October, five months after the parliamentary elections.
Some 250,000 Lebanese expats have registered abroad to vote in the upcoming elections to choose 128 MPs.
Only one-third of them registered for the previous elections, reflecting enthusiasm for change.
Zeina Helou, an expert in local affairs, told Arab News that those who submitted their candidacies belonged to the opposition.
Helou said there was a delay in the process because opposition figures had been questioning the possibility of parliamentary elections going ahead.
There were further delays due to the electoral law requiring candidates to join electoral lists to qualify as a contestant.

FASTFACT

The parliamentary elections are expected to be heated as the Lebanese people are motivated for political upheaval in a system accused of corruption.

Candidates are also required to deposit LBP30 million ($19,800), which is far higher than the LBP8 million deposit for previous parliamentary elections.
Helou said that things might take shape when registration of the candidates’ lists begins, with the deadline set between Mar. 16 and April 4.
Amid the low candidacy numbers, the ruling political forces were still studying the possibility of maintaining their electoral allies, with several alliances broken up as a result of the political crisis.
The mystery surrounding the position of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who returned to Beirut on Thursday morning, has increased their frustration.
He left Lebanon last June following his refusal to form a government.
Hariri met with the members of his bloc, with reports indicating that he will not nominate himself for the upcoming elections, leaving his bloc’s MPs the choice to participate or not.
Former MP and Vice-President of the Future Movement Mustapha Allouch told Arab News: “So far, we haven’t been informed of Hariri’s decision and all the other matters affiliated to that decision.”
Allouch said Hariri was holding several meetings and the picture might be clearer next week.
The political rumor mill has suggested that Hariri’s political allies, led by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Leader of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt, will seek to convince him to run for elections or to let the Future Movement participate, as their absence will leave a void on the Sunni scene.
There are mounting fears regarding Sunni representation as influential figures are reluctant to run for elections. Former Prime Minister Tammam Salam announced on Thursday that he was unwilling to run for parliament.  Nazih Njeim, a member of the Future Movement, revealed that a number of the party’s MPs will not run for elections if Hariri does not put himself forward.
He said: “When the Sunni component is not doing well, this reflects badly on the country.”
Public affairs expert Dr. Walid Fakhreddin said: “Hariri’s decision not to run for elections seems to be settled, knowing that he partly bears responsibility for the collapse of the country and specifically for the settlement that brought about Michel Aoun as the president.”
He added that other political forces in power were also hit at the core.
“The Free Patriotic Movement is destroyed at the grassroots level, and at the internal level, there will be fights between rivals of the same party on the same seat. The Progressive Socialist Party will re-nominate its deputies.”
He said: “We can also say while the popularity of Hezbollah and the Amal Movement was affected in some districts, it is no longer impossible to break it in other districts.
“We will witness a confrontation between the ruling class and the opposition.
“The ruling parties will fight each other, and the opposition may have more than a list in a few districts.”