Ankara tense ahead of Biden’s expected recognition of Armenian Genocide  

Soldiers stand over skulls of Armenian victims of Ottoman violence on the Caucasus front during the World War I in 1915. (Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute photo via AFP)
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Soldiers stand over skulls of Armenian victims of Ottoman violence on the Caucasus front during the World War I in 1915. (Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute photo via AFP)
Ankara tense ahead of Biden’s expected recognition of Armenian Genocide  
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Activists hold photographs of Armenian victims of mass killings by Ottoman Turks, at the Haydarpasa train station in Istanbul. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 April 2021

Ankara tense ahead of Biden’s expected recognition of Armenian Genocide  

Ankara tense ahead of Biden’s expected recognition of Armenian Genocide  
  • Biden, who put human rights at the center of his presidential agenda, promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide during his campaign
  • Previous US presidents avoided using the word genocide when commemorating the mass killings, falling victim to realpolitik to avoid destroying America’s relationship with a NATO ally

ANKARA: Tensions between Washington and Ankara may be further strained on Saturday when US President Joe Biden is expected to become the first US leader to officially recognize the Armenian Genocide of 1915 onward.

The massacre of around 1.5 million Armenians in the early 20th century was formally recognized as genocide by the US Senate in 2019, but then-President Donald Trump did not follow suit. 

April 24 is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, and ahead of Saturday’s annual commemoration, this much-anticipated move is now a major concern for Ankara, and likely to inflame an already tense relationship. Turkey denies any historical connection with the atrocities, since they took place during wartime in the Ottoman period. 

Biden, who put human rights at the center of his presidential agenda, promised to recognize the Armenian Genocide during his campaign. Vice-President Kamala Harris hails from California, where more than 200,000 Armenians currently reside. Forty US lawmakers, led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, recently sent a letter to Biden urging him to follow through on his promise. 

The fact that a scheduled phone call between Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been delayed until after Saturday has been taken by many as a sign that Biden will recognize the genocide and trigger outrage in Ankara.

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Previous US presidents avoided using the word genocide when commemorating the mass killings, falling victim to realpolitik to avoid destroying America’s relationship with a NATO ally.  

On April 20, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said any official recognition by Biden of the mass killings of Armenians during Ottoman times as genocide will seriously undermine the relationship between the two countries. “If the US wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs,” he said. 

Turkey and the US have been at loggerheads over several issues in recent years, including Turkey’s acquisition of Russian-made S-400 missile systems and its worsening human rights record, with several US nationals being arrested on terror-related charges. 

“Not only is anti-Erdogan feeling in Washington intense — especially in congress — but the previous willingness to make concessions to Erdogan because of Turkey’s NATO membership seems to have now disappeared,” Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence, said on Thursday.

“Relations between Turkey and the US have been on a steady downward trajectory for almost 10 years. The possible recognition of the Armenian genocide will exacerbate discomfort amid continuing friction in US-Turkey relations, but will not constitute a breaking point,” he continued.  

Biden’s anticipated declaration is expected to inspire dozens of other countries to follow suit. Currently, more than 30 countries have recognized the mass killings of Armenians as genocide. 

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, believes Biden’s intention to recognize the Armenian Genocide highlights the changing attitudes in the US establishment toward Turkey, with both Democrats and Republicans now pressuring Biden to acknowledge the genocide. 

“It is not the first time that a US president has come to office with a campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide. But, once they come to office, they immediately face a barrage of US government officials and agencies insisting that (the need to maintain) US-Turkish ties outweighs any campaign promise,” he told Arab News. “But that is not the case this year.” 

According to Cagaptay, there are currently very few US government departments that are well-disposed toward Turkey. 

“Contrary to the past — when it was its biggest fan — the Pentagon is arguably now Turkey’s main adversary in Washington. Congress wants to punish not only Erdogan, but also Turkey. It wants tough language and tough measures against Turkey. Biden will (recognize the genocide),” he said. 


Macron, El-Sisi agree ‘absolutely necessary’ to end Israel-Gaza hostilities: Elysee

Macron, El-Sisi agree ‘absolutely necessary’ to end Israel-Gaza hostilities: Elysee
Updated 1 min 50 sec ago

Macron, El-Sisi agree ‘absolutely necessary’ to end Israel-Gaza hostilities: Elysee

Macron, El-Sisi agree ‘absolutely necessary’ to end Israel-Gaza hostilities: Elysee
PARIS: France and Egypt on Monday called for a rapid end to fighting in Israel and Gaza as the violence that has killed more than 200 people there entered its second week.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi agreed in Paris that it was “absolutely necessary” to end the hostilities, Macron’s office said, adding that he had renewed his support for Egypt’s mediation efforts in the conflict.

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike
Updated 42 min 35 sec ago

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike
  • Parents are paid in local currency, which has tumbled in value against the dollar due to Lebanon’s financial collapse
  • Students got together, vowed to act and mounted legal action in February to pay fees at the official rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds/dollar

BEIRUT: When the American University of Beirut (AUB) said the cost of study at Lebanon’s top school would more than double, 21-year-old Ali Slim felt his dream career in medicine might be over before it had even began.
Like most Lebanese, his parents are paid in local currency, which has tumbled in value against the dollar due to the country’s financial collapse, rendering them wholly unable to meet what is in effect a 160 percent tuition increase for their son.
The AUB has boosted financial aid for students, but it said the crisis had made the hike in fees unavoidable.
Another top school — the Lebanese American University (LAU) — soon followed suit, prompting fears that thousands of students like Slim could be priced out of private higher education in a country with only a single, under-funded, public alternative.
So the students got together and vowed to act.
Along with scores of fellow students, Slim mounted legal action in February to pay fees at the official rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds per dollar, rather than the semi-official rate of 3,900 pounds per greenback used by the universities.
“It’s not just a fight for education, it’s a fight for what’s right and to try to get the judicial system to protect the most vulnerable,” Slim told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
When students began paying at the official rate, the AUB rejected their payments and said they would need to pay the new rate — or be dropped from class.
Students then filed two suits: one affirming their right to pay fees at the official exchange rate, the other asking for a stay on all payments until the first case is settled.
An urgent matters court ruled in their favor on the second case, saying the AUB could not exclude the students until there was a final ruling on whether their payment was legal.
The AUB’s office of communications said no students had left due to the hike and that more than 99 percent had paid their fees.
Education Minister Tarek Majzoub did not respond to a request for comment.
As other universities ponder similar hikes, the court’s ruling could have far-reaching implications for tens of thousands of students nationwide.
“We’re basically looking to secure a social safety net that protects students most at risk. That doesn’t exist right now,” said Jad Hani, a 20-year-old economics senior at the AUB.
Following the price hike, annual tuition fees for an arts or sciences degree have risen from about 35 million pounds to about 90 million pounds.
The minimum wage in Lebanon is 675,000 pounds per month, equivalent to 8.1 million pounds per year.
As the crisis decimates household incomes, an unusually large number of students appear to be opting for the publicly funded Lebanese University (LU) over private institutions – a change its president, Fouad Ayoub, linked to “economic factors.”
Some 5,000 students joined this year, after the price hikes were announced, he said, far more than its average intake and swelling the overall student body to 87,000.
The university cannot meet such demand, Ayoub said, since its budget is unchanged but its spending power has crashed in tandem with the local currency.
It has struggled to buy even the basics — lab supplies, electronics and books — as suppliers held off bidding on contracts for fear of the volatile exchange rate, Ayoub said.
“We are rationing the use of paper. The situation is very difficult,” he said.
The LU is not alone in being crippled by issues that are ultimately tied to the increasingly bankrupt Lebanese state.
The AUB said it was owed some $150 million by the state, making its dire situation still worse.
“AUB, like the rest of the country, is having to cope through a crisis not of its own making and without any support,” the university said in written comments.
Still, it has ramped up financial support leading to reductions in tuition costs, helping some 4,000 students — almost one in two — enrolled this academic year.
To ensure it can survive another 150 years, the institution said it had no choice but to up the exchange rate, insisting the new semi-official rate — used for transactions at commercial banks — was anyway still far below the volatile market rate.
With no end in sight to the country’s financial collapse, students said they felt compelled to help each other.
Razane Hishi, a 19-year-old software engineering junior at the AUB, said she chose to join the exchange rate legal fight out of solidarity, rather than need.
“It’s a moral obligation for me to help protect others that may need this now,” Hishi said. “If the trend keeps going, how are any of us supposed to afford an education in the future?”


Egypt braces for surge in virus cases

Egypt braces for surge in virus cases
Updated 38 min 47 sec ago

Egypt braces for surge in virus cases

Egypt braces for surge in virus cases
  • Cairo and Giza governorates have been hardest hit by the rise in coronavirus infections following an increase in gatherings during Ramadan and in the days before Eid
  • Health officials have called on citizens to adhere to precautionary measures, including wearing masks, washing hands frequently and minimising social contact

CAIRO: Egypt is bracing itself for a surge in COVID-19 infections, with daily cases likely to rise from 1,300 to 1,500 in the coming week, according to the Health and Population Ministry.

The pandemic’s intensity is expected to ease by July, a ministry source said, but warned that “this forecast depends on the behavior of citizens and the extent to which they commit to precautionary measures.”

Cairo and Giza governorates have been hardest hit by the rise in coronavirus infections following an increase in gatherings during Ramadan and in the days before Eid.

The two governorates are followed by Fayoum, Minya and Sohag.

Health officials have called on citizens to adhere to precautionary measures, including wearing masks, ensuring social distancing, washing hands frequently, and avoiding crowded areas and public gatherings.

Residents are also being urged to follow news updates on the virus.

The ministry source also called on citizens, especially the elderly and people with chronic diseases, to register for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Egypt is hoping to provide a choice of vaccines, with shipments expected in the coming days.

Egypt’s Health and Population Minister, Hala Zayed, announced the launch of community communication teams in seven governorates across the country on Saturday and Sunday to enhance citizens’ health awareness.

Khaled Megahed, assistant minister of health and population for information and awareness, said that teams were deployed on Monday in Cairo, Alexandria, and Fayoum.

Teams started on Sunday in Ras El-Bar city in Mayat governorate and Baltim city in Kafr El-Sheikh governorate. The teams are also targeting the Giza and Port Said governorates.


Israel kills militant commander after Palestinian rocket fire, US calls for peace

Israel kills militant commander after Palestinian rocket fire, US calls for peace
Updated 17 May 2021

Israel kills militant commander after Palestinian rocket fire, US calls for peace

Israel kills militant commander after Palestinian rocket fire, US calls for peace
  • Gaza health officials put the Palestinian death toll since the hostilities flared last week at 201, including 58 children and 34 women
  • Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities say

GAZA/TEL AVIV: Israel killed a senior Palestinian militant commander in heavy air strikes on Gaza on Monday and Islamist groups renewed rocket attacks on Israeli cities despite mounting international calls for a cease-fire.
As the fiercest hostilities in the region in years entered a second week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged all sides to protect civilians and said Washington was working intensively behind the scenes to halt the conflict.
Gaza health officials put the Palestinian death toll since the hostilities flared last week at 201, including 58 children and 34 women. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities say.
The killing of Hussam Abu Harbeed, Islamic Jihad’s armed commander for north Gaza, was likely to draw a fierce response from the militant group that is fighting alongside Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs the coastal enclave.
The Israeli military said in a statement that Harbeed had been “behind several anti-tank missile terror attacks against Israeli civilians,” and an Israeli general said his country could carry on the fight “forever.”
Militant groups in Gaza also gave no sign that an end to fighting was imminent. Soon after Harbeed’s death, Islamic Jihad said it had fired rockets at the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, and Israeli police said three people had been slightly hurt.
At least three Palestinians were also killed by an Israeli air strike on a car in Gaza City on Monday, medics said, after a night of heavy Israeli air strikes. Israel’s military said Gaza militants had fired about 60 rockets toward Israeli cities overnight, down from 120 and 200 the two previous nights.
Another Palestinian was killed in an aerial attack on the town of Jabalya, medics said.
“My children couldn’t sleep all night even after the wave of intensive bombing stopped,” said Umm Naeem, 50, a mother of five, as she shopped for bread in Gaza City after the latest Israeli air strikes. “What is happening to us is too much, but Jerusalem deserves all the sacrifices.”
Israel bombed what its military said was 15 km (nine miles) of underground tunnels used by Hamas after Palestinian militants fired rockets from Gaza at the Israeli cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon. Nine residences belonging to high-ranking Hamas commanders in Gaza were also hit, it said.
“We have to continue the war until there is long-term cease-fire — (one) that is not temporary,” Osher Bugam, a resident of the Israel coastal city of Ashkelon, said after a rocket fired from Gaza hit a synagogue there.

’War of attrition’
Hamas began its rocket assault last Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Palestinians have also become frustrated by setbacks to their aspirations for an independent state and an end to Israeli occupation in recent years.
World concern deepened after an Israeli air strike in Gaza that destroyed several homes on Sunday and which Palestinian health officials said killed 42 people, including 10 children, and persistent rocket attacks on Israeli towns.
US envoy Hady Amr, appointed by President Joe Biden last week, met Palestinian officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday and Blinken said US officials had been “working around the clock” to bring an end to the conflict.
“The United States remains greatly concerned by the escalating violence. Hundreds of people killed or injured, including children being pulled from the rubble,” he said after talks with Denmark’s foreign minister in Copenhagen.
The United States said on Sunday it had made clear it was ready to offer support “should the parties seek a cease-fire.”
Jordan’s King Abdullah said his kingdom was involved in intensive diplomacy to halt the bloodshed, but gave no details.
Brig. Gen. Yaron Rosen, a former Israeli air division commander, gave no indication on Monday there would be a let-up in attacks in what he called a “war of attrition.”
“The IDF (Israeli military) can go with this forever. And they (Hamas) can go on with their rockets, sadly, also for a very long time. But the price they are paying is rising higher and higher,” he told reporters.
The Israeli military said at least 130 Palestinian combatants had been killed since fighting began. Harbeed had been a commander with Islamic Jihad for 15 years and was behind an attack on the first day of hostilities last week, it said.
The Israeli military said Hamas, a group regarded by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist movement, and other armed factions had fired about 3,150 rockets from Gaza over the past week. Israel’s missile defense system intercepted most of them, it said.
Hamas said its attacks were in retaliation for Israel’s “ongoing aggression against civilians.”
The Israeli military said civilian casualties were unintentional and that its warplanes attacked a tunnel system used by militants, which collapsed, bringing the homes down. Hamas called it “pre-meditated killing.”


US working 'intensively' to bring Israeli-Palestinian violence to an end — Blinken

US working 'intensively' to bring Israeli-Palestinian violence to an end — Blinken
Updated 17 May 2021

US working 'intensively' to bring Israeli-Palestinian violence to an end — Blinken

US working 'intensively' to bring Israeli-Palestinian violence to an end — Blinken

COPENHAGEN: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged all parties in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to protect civilians and said the United States is working intensively to an end to the violence.
“We have been working around the clock through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to the conflict,” Blinken said at a joint briefing with Denmark’s foreign minister in Copenhagen.
The fighting entered a second week on Monday as Israel bombed targets in Gaza and Palestinian militants fired rocket barrages at Israeli cities.
Gaza health officials put the Palestinian death toll since the hostilities flared at 198, including 58 children and 34 women. Ten people have been killed in Israel, including two children, Israeli authorities say.
“The United States remains greatly concerned by the escalating violence. Hundreds of people killed or injured, including children being pulled from the rubble,” he said.
“We are ready to lend support if the parties (...) seek a cease-fire,” Blinken said.
Blinken said Israel has the right to defend itself, but said he had been alarmed that journalists and medical workers had been put at risk, in particular after Israel on Saturday destroyed a tower block in Gaza housing the offices of the US-based Associated Press and other news media.
The United States has requested additional details from Israel regarding the attack, Blinken said.