Jerusalem tension triggers Gaza-Israel fire exchange

Palestinians parade a burning tire as they shout slogans in support of the Al-Aqsa Mosque during a rally in Gaza city on April 24, 2021, condemning overnight clashes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. (AFP / Mohammed Abed)
Palestinians parade a burning tire as they shout slogans in support of the Al-Aqsa Mosque during a rally in Gaza city on April 24, 2021, condemning overnight clashes in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. (AFP / Mohammed Abed)
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Updated 24 April 2021

Jerusalem tension triggers Gaza-Israel fire exchange

Jerusalem tension triggers Gaza-Israel fire exchange
  • Israeli aircraft and tanks struck rocket launchers and unspecified underground infrastructure for Hamas
  • A military unit affiliated with the leftist PFLP claims it fired some missiles on Israeli targets

JERUSALEM: Tensions in Jerusalem sparked the worst round of cross-border violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip in months on Saturday, with Palestinian militants firing at least 30 rockets and Israel striking back at targets operated by Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Skirmishes have spiked in recent days in Jerusalem, which has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Residents braced for possible further unrest as police stepped up security and the US Embassy appealed for calm.
On Friday, Israeli police said 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby.
The incidents in Jerusalem triggered a flare-up in Gaza. Hamas’ armed wing warned Israel “not to test” its patience and militants in the Palestinian enclave started firing rockets into southern Israel late Friday and continued through Saturday morning.
The Israeli military said its aircraft and tanks struck rocket launchers and unspecified underground infrastructure for Hamas. The militant group did not claim responsibility for the rocket attacks, but a small military formation affiliated with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said it fired some of the missiles.
Sirens warning of incoming rockets from Gaza kept blaring in southern Israel. Air defenses intercepted some of the rockets. There were no reports of injuries on either side.
At dawn, hundreds of people in Gaza challenged nightly curfews imposed by Hamas to curb the coronavirus outbreak and took to the streets in an act of solidarity with fellow Palestinians in Jerusalem, burning tires.
There were concerns the violence could reignite following Friday noon prayers at a major holy site in Jerusalem, but thousands of worshippers dispersed peacefully after Muslim religious leaders called for restraint.
But in the evening, dozens of Palestinians marched toward an entrance to the walled Old City of Jerusalem and clashed with Israeli police, which said the protesters had thrown stones and other items at officers. Six Palestinians were injured with two hospitalized.
Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police on a nightly basis since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The tensions began when police placed barricades outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, where Muslims traditionally gather to enjoy the evening after the daytime fast.
The clashes intensified Thursday evening when hundreds of Palestinians hurled stones and bottles at police, who fired a water cannon and stun grenades to disperse them. Dozens of Palestinians were wounded in the melee.
At the same time, a far-right Jewish group known as Lahava led a march of hundreds of protesters chanting “Arabs get out!” toward the Damascus Gate. The show of force came in response to videos circulated on TikTok showing Palestinians slapping religious Jews at random. Other videos made in response to them appear to show Jews assaulting Arabs. After keeping them a few hundred yards away from Damascus Gate, police used water cannon, stun grenades and mounted police to push far-right protesters back toward mostly Jewish west Jerusalem.
The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. Its fate has been one of the most divisive issues in the peace process, which ground to a halt more than a decade ago.
Early Saturday, Jordan strongly condemned “the racist attacks on Palestinians.” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted: “As the occupying power under international law, Israel is responsible for stopping these attacks & for the dangerous consequences of failing to do so.”
The US Embassy said it was “deeply concerned” about the violence in recent days. “We hope all responsible voices will promote an end to incitement, a return to calm, and respect for the safety and dignity of everyone in Jerusalem,” it said in a statement.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended weekly prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday. The site is the third holiest in Islam and the holiest for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount.
Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, condemned the “police and settlers’ attack on Palestinians in Jerusalem” in his sermon. But he called on worshippers to remain calm and not to give the other side an excuse to storm the compound. They dispersed peacefully after prayers and there were no immediate reports of unrest.
The sprawling hilltop compound has seen clashes on a number of occasions over the years and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Hamas meanwhile staged demonstrations across Gaza after Friday prayers, reiterating its support for armed struggle. “After a long series of protests and demonstrations, we have reached the conclusion that without weapons, we cannot liberate our land, protect our holy sites, bringing back our people to their land or maintain our dignity,” senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said.


Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration

Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration
Updated 15 sec ago

Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration

Optimism in Gaza amid indications of reconstruction acceleration
  • Billions of dollars needed to prepare engineering plans for the rebuilding of the war-torn strip

GAZA CITY: Some hope has returned to Gaza resident Ayman Dahman upon learning that his apartment building, completely destroyed during Israeli airstrikes last May, would be reconstructed.

Dahman has despaired over the past months, but Egyptian and Qatari statements regarding the acceleration of the reconstruction process have restored optimism.

Dahman and his family of six lived in a five-story residential building inhabited by 10 families, in the north of Gaza City.

After its destruction, he moved to live with his son in a small two-room apartment. Once the war ended, he relocated to a rented house, which was paid for by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

UNRWA provided $1,500 in rent allowance and $500 for the purchase of basic home furnishings for each victim who lost his or her home during the war.

Dahman said that the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Hamas-run Gaza contacted him a few days ago to prepare the engineering plans for the building in preparation for reconstruction.

On Oct. 19, the Egyptian Committee for the Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip announced the launch of its first development project in Gaza: the construction of Al-Rasheed Street in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza.

At the same time, head of the Qatari Reconstruction Committee Mohammed Al-Emadi, currently in Gaza, announced that the coming days would witness an acceleration in the reconstruction process.

Hamas had received Egyptian promises during its leadership’s visit to Cairo earlier this month to speed up the pace of reconstruction and to provide trade and economic facilities at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

After the war, Egypt pledged a grant of $500 million as a contribution to reconstruction and sent engineering delegations to remove rubble in preparation.

Undersecretary of the Ministry of Public Works and Housing Naji Sarhan, said that the Egyptian grant projects include the construction of three residential cities in Beit Lahia; Jabalia, north of Gaza; and the Al-Zahra area, south of Gaza City.

According to the agreement, these three cities will include 2,000 housing units, giving priority to poor and low-income people. The construction of bridges and roads also will be supported.

Sarhan said that Egyptian officials promised — during meetings in Cairo with an official delegation from Gaza about two weeks ago — to start the reconstruction of the residential high-rises soon.

Egyptian crews had contributed to removing the rubble of damaged high-rises, as well as the construction of the first residential city in northern Gaza, he added.

The talks with the Egyptians, according to Sarhan, resulted in an agreement to operate the largest number of local contracting companies.

It was also agreed to import all the materials needed for reconstruction from the Rafah crossing to ensure the operation of local factories and to provide facilities for the movement of contractors and businessmen through the crossing.

The local authorities estimated the direct losses in the Gaza Strip during the war at $479 million.

Sarhan said that the direct losses are related to the destruction that afflicted the housing and infrastructure sector, as 1,500 housing units were destroyed, and 880 units were severely damaged. Hundreds of units were moderately and slightly damaged, with the value of reconstruction estimated at $145 million.

A great deal of damage was also caused to the infrastructure, including public buildings, roads, energy, communications and sanitation, with reconstruction estimated at $293 million.

Losses were also incurred in the sectors of economy, trade, health, education and agriculture, apart from indirect losses caused by the war.

Sarhan estimates that Gaza needs $2 billion in order to revive it after many years of wars and siege.

Palestinians see the latest Egyptian move as coming within a context of coordination with the US administration, which hopes to establish stability in Gaza.

A few days before the Hamas meetings in Cairo, Gaza reconstruction was discussed during talks between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Hamas-affiliated columnist Majed Al-Zibda believes that the recent Egyptian meeting with Hamas is consistent with the vision of the US administration, which desires to contain Gaza and ensure stability there so to avoid any deterioration that could lead to new confrontations.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported earlier that Egypt and the US were pressuring Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to work on forming a new unity government with the aim of pushing forward long-term stability and the reconstruction of Gaza.


Turkey to expel US envoy and nine others, Erdogan says

Turkey to expel US envoy and nine others, Erdogan says
Updated 23 October 2021

Turkey to expel US envoy and nine others, Erdogan says

Turkey to expel US envoy and nine others, Erdogan says
  • Seven of the ambassadors represent Turkey's NATO allies and the expulsions, if carried out, would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan's 19 years in power
  • In a joint statement on Oct. 18, ten ambassadors called for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala's case, and for his "urgent release"

ISTANBUL: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he had told his foreign ministry to expel the ambassadors of the United States and nine other Western countries for demanding the release of philanthropist Osman Kavala.
Seven of the ambassadors represent Turkey’s NATO allies and the expulsions, if carried out, would open the deepest rift with the West in Erdogan’s 19 years in power.
Kavala, a contributor to numerous civil society groups, has been in prison for four years, charged with financing nationwide protests in 2013 and with involvement in a failed coup in 2016. He has remained in detention while his latest trial continues, and denies the charges.
In a joint statement on Oct. 18, the ambassadors of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and the United States called for a just and speedy resolution to Kavala’s case, and for his “urgent release.” They were summoned by the foreign ministry, which called the statement irresponsible.
“I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done: These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata (undesirable) at once. You will sort it out immediately,” Erdogan said in a speech in the northwestern city of Eskisehir.
“They will know and understand Turkey. The day they do not know and understand Turkey, they will leave,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
The US, and French embassies and the White House and US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Erdogan has said previously that he plans to meet US President Joe Biden at summit of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies in Rome next weekend.
Norway said its embassy had not received any notification from Turkish authorities.
“Our ambassador has not done anything that warrants an expulsion,” said the ministry’s chief spokesperson, Trude Maaseide, adding that Turkey was well aware of Norway’s views.
“We will continue to call on Turkey to comply with democratic standards and the rule of law to which the country committed itself under the European Human Rights Convention,” Maaseide said.
Kavala was acquitted last year of charges related to the 2013 protests, but the ruling was overturned this year and combined with charges related to the coup attempt.
Rights groups say his case is emblematic of a crackdown on dissent under Erdogan.
Six of the countries involved are EU members, including Germany and France. European Parliament President David Sassoli tweeted: “The expulsion of ten ambassadors is a sign of the authoritarian drift of the Turkish government. We will not be intimidated. Freedom for Osman Kavala.”
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said his ministry had not received any official notification, but was in contact with its friends and allies.
“We will continue to guard our common values and principles, as also expressed in the joint declaration,” he said in a statement.
A source at the German Foreign Ministry also said the 10 countries were consulting with one another.
Kavala said on Friday https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/philanthropist-kavala-says-no-possibility-fair-trial-turkey-2021-10-22 he would no longer attend his trial as a fair hearing was impossible after recent comments by Erdogan.
Erdogan was quoted on Thursday as saying the ambassadors in question would not release “bandits, murderers and terrorists” in their own countries.
The European Court of Human Rights called for Kavala’s immediate release two years ago, saying there was no reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offense, and finding that his detention had been intended to silence him.
It issued a similar ruling this year in the case of Selahattin Demirtas, former head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), who has been held in jail for nearly five years.
The Council of Europe, which oversees the implementation of ECHR decisions, has said it will begin infringement proceedings against Turkey if Kavala is not released.
The next hearing in Kavala’s trial is on Nov. 26.


Palestinian rights groups see muzzle in Israel’s terror tag

Palestinian rights groups see muzzle in Israel’s terror tag
Updated 23 October 2021

Palestinian rights groups see muzzle in Israel’s terror tag

Palestinian rights groups see muzzle in Israel’s terror tag
  • Activists said the decision amounts to an attempt to silence groups that have documented Israel's harsh treatment of Palestinians over the years
  • The terrorism label would allow Israel to raid the groups’ offices, seize assets, arrest employees and criminalize funding and expressions of support

RAMALLAH, West Bank: Activists called on the international community Saturday to help reverse Israel’s unprecedented designation of six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organizations, a label that effectively outlaws them.
They said the decision amounts to an attempt to silence groups that have documented Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinians over the years. Some of the groups have close ties with rights organizations in Israel and abroad.
Israel claims the targeted groups were a front for a small PLO faction with a violent history, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Israel’s terror label for the six groups, including some that receive European funding, appears to have caught the United States and Europe off-guard. Israel later insisted some Biden administration officials were notified ahead of time.
The move against the rights groups comes at a time when efforts to negotiate the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel are hopelessly bogged down. For years, the US and Europe have been engaged in politically less costly conflict management, rather than pushing for a solution, while Israeli settlements on occupied lands sought for a Palestinian state have continued to expand.
Amid the paralysis, Europe, in particular, has invested in strengthening Palestinian civil society, an effort now seemingly being challenged by Israel’s decision to outlaw well-known rights groups.
The terrorism label would allow Israel to raid the groups’ offices, seize assets, arrest employees and criminalize funding and expressions of support.
Rights groups in Israel and abroad have expressed outrage over the “terror” label.
Palestinian activists said they are counting on international pressure to get the decision reversed.
“We hope that the International community will put enough pressure on Israel so that it will back down,” Ubai Aboudi, head of the Bisan Center for Research and Development, one of the targeted groups, said Saturday. Aboudi said he was previously charged by Israel with being a PFLP member, but denied ever belonging to the group.
Sahar Francis, the director of the prisoners rights group Addameer, told a news conference that she was grateful for the international statements of support, and that “we expect this campaign and pressure to continue in order for it to be fruitful.” Addameer is also one of the targeted groups.
Shawan Jabarin, who heads the veteran rights group Al-Haq, said Israel’s designation came as a surprise and that the groups had not been given a heads-up. Two of the six groups said they would not be forced underground despite the uncertainty of their new status,
An Israeli defense official alleged in a statement Saturday that the six groups “operate as an organized network” under the leadership of the PFLP. The statement claimed the groups serve as a lifeline for the PFLP through fund-raising, money laundering and recruiting activists.
It also named several members of the rights groups who were later arrested as alleged members of the PFLP military wing. The small PLO faction has a political party and a military wing that has carried out attacks that killed Israelis.
The PFLP is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and Western countries.
The six groups have denied the allegations and have denounced Israel’s terrorism designation as a blatant attempt to squash reporting on rights abuses in the occupied territories, mainly by Israel, but also by the increasingly authoritarian Palestinian autonomy government.
The UN Human Rights Office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said Saturday that the reasons cited by Israel’s defense minister were “vague or irrelevant,” and denounced his decision as the latest move in a “long stigmatizing campaign” against the organizations.
The European Union delegation to the Palestinian territories acknowledged financing activities by some of the rights groups. It said past allegations of the misuse of EU funds by partners “have not been substantiated” but that it takes the matter seriously and is looking into it.
“EU funding to Palestinian civil society organizations is an important element of our support for the two-state solution,” it said Friday.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, said it had not been given advance warning about the decision and would seek more information. US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Friday that “we believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance.”
The other four groups targeted by Israel include Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. The majority of the organizations target human rights violations by Israel as well as the Palestinian Authority, both of which routinely detain Palestinian activists.


Lebanese president returns electoral law to parliament

Aoun did not sign the law, to which parliament introduced some amendments. He has requested that these amendments be reconsidered. (Reuters)
Aoun did not sign the law, to which parliament introduced some amendments. He has requested that these amendments be reconsidered. (Reuters)
Updated 23 October 2021

Lebanese president returns electoral law to parliament

Aoun did not sign the law, to which parliament introduced some amendments. He has requested that these amendments be reconsidered. (Reuters)
  • Aoun justifies opposition to law by citing ‘natural and climatic factors’ that often occur in March and could prevent voting
  • Bassil may benefit from these developments and reap rewards elsewhere, says analyst

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun has sent a law amending legislative election rules back to parliament for reconsideration, the presidency said in a statement.

Aoun did not sign the law, to which parliament introduced some amendments. He has requested that these amendments be reconsidered.

Aoun’s objection comes after the Free Patriotic Movement bloc raised its opposition to holding elections in March instead of May because it “narrows its margins of action.”

During the legislative session of Oct. 19, the bloc also objected to proposals to change the expatriate voting formula by canceling the six allocated seats and allowing expatriates to vote for the electoral lists.

The FPM sought to allocate these six seats in the electoral law, provided that voting for these representatives would take place in the 2022 elections.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on the parliamentary committees to convene next Tuesday to discuss Aoun’s response to the electoral law.

Observers described these developments as a sign of a political struggle for the presidency.

The parliament to be elected in March is expected to pick the new president after Aoun’s term ends in October.

In the decree in which he requested a review of the amendments, Aoun said that “shortening the constitutional deadline for the elections could prevent voters from being able to exercise their electoral right due to the natural and climatic factors that often prevail in March, making it impossible for voters to reach their polling stations, not to mention the cost of transportation and the inability to supply polling stations with electricity.”

He added: “This could also prevent voters residing outside Lebanon from exercising their political right preserved in the current electoral law by voting for their representatives in the electoral district designated for non-residents.”

The president said that the amendments to the law deprive the right to vote from 10,685 citizens, who would reach the age of 21 between Feb. 1 and March 30, 2022.

Zeina Helou, an elections expert, told Arab News: “Aoun is trying to pull strings in order to later accuse the other political parties of preventing him from carrying out the reforms he wanted.”

She added: “Aoun and his political team prefer to gain more time to conduct the elections rather than move the date up.

“Freezing the voter lists will deprive new voters who would soon turn 21 from the right to vote, and this may be a reason to appeal before the Constitutional Council.”

Helou added that “the FPM fears that Christian voters who live in Greater Beirut will not go to the polling stations in their remote villages and towns in Akkar, in the north, the south, and Baalbek-Hermel, either because of the high prices of gasoline or because of the stormy weather in the mountains in March, and insists on Mega polling centers.”

She noted that “this process requires a lot of time to be arranged, but I doubt that the rest of the political parties want these polling stations in the places where voters live because they lose the ability to control their voters and know who they voted for.”

Helou pointed out: “The Shiite duo, Hezbollah and the Amal movement — unlike Aoun and his political team — do not fear the upcoming elections. Hezbollah does not derive its legitimacy from the elections but from its weapons and power.

“Hezbollah is able to obstruct any parliamentary session, just as it is currently obstructing holding cabinet sessions until Tarek Bitar, the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut port blast, is removed. The second Hezbollah feels threatened, it will turn the tables.”

Justifications for disrupting the elections in March may already be in motion, regardless of constitutional reasons that may or may not be taken into account.

Helou told Arab News that FPM head MP Gebran Bassil — who has always wanted to become president — may benefit from the current developments and reap rewards elsewhere.

Although the political parties believe it is still too early to discuss what the upcoming parliamentary elections will bear, Helou said that in 2018, the elections were held amid understanding and settlements between the political parties in power, while in 2022 they will be marked by tug-of-war and alliances.

“The same parties could be re-elected and regain their seats in parliament, and we may see a low voter turnout for lack of convincing alternatives.”

Next Tuesday, parliament is expected to either approve Aoun’s request, which requires the votes of 61 MPs, or appeal it before the Constitutional Council.

Parliament could also introduce some amendments to the law, which requires the votes of half of the quorum plus one; if the quorum is 65 MPs, the law would need 33 votes.


Sudan pro-civilian rule faction warns of ‘creeping coup’

Sudan pro-civilian rule faction warns of ‘creeping coup’
Updated 23 October 2021

Sudan pro-civilian rule faction warns of ‘creeping coup’

Sudan pro-civilian rule faction warns of ‘creeping coup’
  • Sudan has been undergoing a precarious transition marred by political divisions and power struggles
  • Since August 2019, the country has been led by civilian-military administration tasked with overseeing the transition to full civilian rule

KHARTOUM: A Sudanese faction calling for a transfer of power to civilian rule warned Saturday of a “creeping coup,” during a press conference that an unidentified mob attack sought to prevent.
Sudan has been undergoing a precarious transition marred by political divisions and power struggles since the April 2019 ouster of president Omar Al-Bashir.
Since August 2019, the country has been led by civilian-military administration tasked with overseeing the transition to full civilian rule.
The main civilian bloc — the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) — which led anti-Bashir protests, has splintered into two opposing factions.
“The crisis at hand is engineered — and is in the shape of a creeping coup,” mainstream FFC leader Yasser Arman, said in a press conference in the capital Khartoum.
“We renew our confidence in the government, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and reforming transitional institutions — but without dictations or imposition,” Arman added.
The press conference at the official SUNA news agency premises was delayed when an unidentified mob tried to stop it going ahead.
The FFC’s mainstream faction backs a transition to civilian rule, but supporters of the breakaway faction have ratcheted up calls for “military rule.”
On Thursday, tens of thousands of protesters rallied across Sudan to counter a week-long encampment supporting pro-military rule in central Khartoum.
Critics have charged that the rival sit-in has been orchestrated by senior figures in the security forces, Bashir sympathizers and other “counter-revolutionaries.”
Tensions between the two sides have long simmered, but divisions ratcheted up after a failed coup on September 21.
Hamdok has previously described the splits as the “worst and most dangerous crisis” facing the transition.
On Saturday, Hamdok denied rumors he had agreed to a cabinet reshuffle, calling them “not accurate.”
The premier also “emphasised that he does not monopolize the right to decide the fate of transitional institutions.”
SUNA reported that Jeffrey Feltman, US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, is expected in Khartoum for meetings.