Protests shed light on Jerusalem’s status in upcoming elections

Protests shed light on Jerusalem’s status in upcoming elections
Israeli security forces disperse Palestinian protesters outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on April 23, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 24 April 2021

Protests shed light on Jerusalem’s status in upcoming elections

Protests shed light on Jerusalem’s status in upcoming elections
  • Abbas adviser calls on other countries to support elections taking place in Jerusalem
  • Jordanian FM warns Israel not to ‘play with fire’ as possible long-term escalation looms

AMMAN: The sudden escalation and spread of Palestinian protests in reaction to racist incitement by Jewish groups have brought the issue of the status of occupied Jerusalem to center stage.
Majdi Khalidi, the senior diplomatic adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Arab News that contacts have been made with other Arab and Islamic countries around the world, calling on them to make public statements on the importance of elections that should take place in Jerusalem.
Khalidi said that no one can bypass the people of Jerusalem. 
“What is happening reminds the world that East Jerusalem is an occupied territory and the capital of the Palestinian state,” he said. “It shows that Jerusalem Palestinians must be allowed to participate in the elections.”
Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, condemned “all acts of violence” and called upon “all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further escalation, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan and this politically charged time for all.”
The UN coordinator’s statement, which said that efforts are being made to de-escalate the situation, failed to condemn the racist calls for the death of Arabs, nor did it reiterate the rights of Jerusalem Palestinians to participate in the upcoming Palestinian legislative elections.
Ayman Safadi, Jordanian deputy prime minister and foreign minister, called on Israel not to play with fire. 
“Jerusalem is a red line,” he said. “Any attempts against it are tantamount to playing with fire. The Israeli occupiers have an international obligation to stop the racist violations against the people of the old city of Jerusalem.”
Safadi described the attackers as representing “hatred and racism.”
The Israeli media reported a high-level security meeting for the defense ministry in Tel Aviv concluded that there is a need for Israel to prepare for escalation that could take a long time and spread throughout the occupied territories. The chief of the army staff, Aviv Kohavi, who headed the security meeting, canceled a planned trip to the US because of the escalation of tensions and violence.
Anees Sweidan, director of the Arab Affairs department in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) believes that the protests in Jerusalem will strengthen the hands of those calling for Jerusalemites to be included in the May 22 elections.
However, Radi Jirai, a former Fatah prisoner who believes that the future now is for Palestinians and Israelis to agree on a single state with equal rights, told Arab News that the explosion that was initiated in Jerusalem will not be good news for Abbas. 
“President Abbas is in an unenviable position,” he said. “His support to the protesters will mean that he will have a hard time if pressed by Israelis to calm the situation down.”
Khalil Assali, the publisher of the East Jerusalem news site Akhbarelbalad, told Arab News that politicians should not interfere or try to hijack the protests. 
“Leave the youth of Jerusalem to oppose Israeli racism and to Jerusalemites, who called for holding the tarawih (post-isha prayers) at the steps of Damascus gate in defiance of Israel’s unilaterally imposed ban against the use of the stairs by the Palestinians of the city,” he said.
Aviv Tataraski, of the Ir-Amim NGO, which is focused on the human rights situation in East Jerusalem, told Arab News that the real problem is the police. 
“If the police wanted, they could easily disperse or keep them at bay,” he said.
Tataraski said Israeli police turned a blind eye to calls for the death of Arabs by the extremist groups while brutally attacking Palestinians who just came for prayer, shopping, or were protesting with calls of Allah-o-Akbar.
He said that the real power of Palestinians is their numbers. 
“When the Israeli police decided to block people from sitting and gathering at the Damascus gate without any justification, the motive was clear,” Tataraski said. “The police wanted to show Palestinians that even in this central place they have to bow down to Israeli whims.”
Tataraski, who was an eyewitness to the events over the past few days, said the actions against Palestinians have backfired.
Wadie Abu Nassar, director of the Haifa-based International Center for Consultations, told Arab News that Israel has no intention to approve or disapprove Palestinian elections in Jerusalem.
Abu Nassar insists that “nobody is pressing Israel seriously, even not Hamas, to allow Palestinian elections in Jerusalem.”


Lebanon restricts cafes, beaches to the vaccinated or COVID tested

Lebanon restricts cafes, beaches to the vaccinated or COVID tested
Updated 30 July 2021

Lebanon restricts cafes, beaches to the vaccinated or COVID tested

Lebanon restricts cafes, beaches to the vaccinated or COVID tested
  • The move comes amidst a surge in infections with around 1,104 positive cases registered on Thursday

BEIRUT: Lebanon is to limit entry to restaurants, cafes, pubs and beaches to people holding COVID-19 vaccine certificates or those who have taken antibodies tests, the tourism ministry said on Friday.
Non-vaccinated employees of these establishments would be required to conduct a PCR test every 72 hours, it added.
The move comes amidst a surge in infections with around 1,104 positive cases registered on Thursday compared to a few hundred a day in previous months.
Lebanon’s cases peaked when a total lockdown was enforced in January after hospitals became overwhelmed amid a crippling financial crisis, with medicines running low and frequent power cuts.
The country gradually re-opened over the spring.
Lebanon’s vaccination drive has been slow with only around 18 percent of the population fully vaccinated.


EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions

EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions
Updated 42 min 58 sec ago

EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions

EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions
  • In a statement it said the framework provided for the possibility of imposing sanctions on those responsible for undermining democracy or the rule of law in Lebanon
  • The sanctions regime could see individuals hit by travel bans and asset freezes

PARIS: The European Union said on Friday it had adopted a legal framework for a sanctions regime targeting Lebanese individuals and entities after a year of crisis that has left Lebanon facing financial collapse, hyperinflation and food and fuel shortages.
In a statement it said the framework provided for the possibility of imposing sanctions on those responsible for undermining democracy or the rule of law in Lebanon.
Led by France, the EU is seeking to ramp up pressure on Lebanon's squabbling politicians, part of broader international efforts to force a stable government capable of carrying out crucial reforms to emerge from political chaos and economic collapse following a blast that ravaged Beirut port.
"It is, however, of the utmost importance that the Lebanese leadership put aside their differences and work together to form a government and enact the measures required to steer the country towards a sustainable recovery," the EU statement said.
The EU cautioned earlier in July that the sanctions measures would not be immediately implemented.
The sanctions regime could see individuals hit by travel bans and asset freezes, although it may also decide to not list anybody immediately. Diplomats have said targets are not likely to be decided before the end of the summer.
EU persons and entities are also forbidden from making funds available to those listed, the statement said.
Criteria for EU sanctions would include corruption, obstructing efforts to form a government, financial misdeeds and human rights abuses.


FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment
Updated 30 July 2021

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment
  • Questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate was left unsafely stored in the capital for years
  • The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people

WASHINGTON: The amount of ammonium nitrate that blew up at Beirut port last year was one fifth of the shipment unloaded there in 2013, the FBI concluded after the blast, adding to suspicions that much of the cargo had gone missing.
As the first anniversary approaches on Aug. 4, major questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate — which can be used to make fertilizer or bombs — was left unsafely stored in a capital city for years.
The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people, wounding thousands, and devastating swathes of Beirut.
The FBI’s Oct. 7, 2020 report, which was seen by Reuters this week, estimates around 552 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded that day, much less than the 2,754 tons that arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013.
The FBI report does not give any explanation as to how the discrepancy arose, or where the rest of the shipment may have gone.
In response to a detailed request for comment, an FBI spokesperson referred Reuters to the Lebanese authorities.
FBI investigators came to Beirut after the blast at Lebanon’s request.
A senior Lebanese official who was aware of the FBI report and its findings said the Lebanese authorities agreed with the Bureau on the quantity that exploded.
Many officials in Lebanon have previously said in private they believe a lot of the shipment was stolen.
The ammonium nitrate was going from Georgia to Mozambique on a Russian-leased cargo ship when the captain says he was instructed to make an unscheduled stop in Beirut and take on extra cargo.
The ship arrived in Beirut in November 2013 but never left, becoming tangled in a legal dispute over unpaid port fees and ship defects. No one ever came forward to claim the shipment.
The senior Lebanese official said there were no firm conclusions as to why the quantity that exploded was less than the original shipment. One theory was that part of it was stolen. A second theory was that only part of the shipment detonated, with the rest blown out to sea, the official said.
The FBI report said “an approximate amount reaching around 552 metric tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in warehouse 12.”
It noted the warehouse was large enough to house the 2,754 ton shipment, which was stored in one-ton bags, but added “it is not logical that all of them were present at the time of the explosion.”


Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president
Updated 30 July 2021

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president
  • Parliamentarian Yassin Ayari’s wife said security arrested him for criticizing Tunisian President on Facebook

TUNIS: Tunisian security forces arrested a member of parliament at his home on Friday, his wife said, after he criticised President Kais Saied on Facebook and called his seizure of governing powers a coup.
Yassin Ayari, who represents a small party in parliament, has previously expressed frequent criticism of Saied, who on Sunday dismissed the prime minister, froze parliament for a month and said he was taking over executive authority.
Neither the security forces nor the judiciary were immediately available for comment on his arrest.
Ayari's wife, Cyrine Fitouri, said by phone that about 20 men in plain clothes who introduced themselves as members of a presidential security unit had raided their home earlier on Friday and used violence as they detained him.
"They took him forcefully while his mother was shouting," she said, adding that they had told the family not to film them as they took him away.
Saied on Thursday said he would uphold freedoms and rights of Tunisians as the United States urged him to return the country to "the democratic path" and key civil society groups said he must uphold the constitution.
His actions appear to have widespread popular support in Tunisia, where years of misgovernance, corruption, political paralysis and economic stagnation have been aggravated this year by a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases.
When he announced his seizure of governing powers on Sunday he also said he would take over public prosecutions and lifted the immunity of parliament members.
The judiciary, which has declared its political independence, said this week it had previously opened investigations into three political parties that have opposed Saied, and has now started investigations into several lawmakers.


Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus
Updated 30 July 2021

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus
  • Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas announced that vaccination for children aged between 12 and 15 starts Monday
  • Over 20 per cent of Cypriot teenagers aged 16-17 have received a vaccine shot

NICOSIA: Cyprus decided Friday to expand its Covid-19 vaccination rollout to cover children aged 12 to 15, as authorities tackle a fourth wave of coronavirus.
Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas announced that vaccination for children aged between 12 and 15 would start Monday.
“The vaccination will be voluntary and with the necessary consent of the parents or legal guardians,” he said.
“Already several European Union countries, such as France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, and Greece, vaccinate children aged 12-15 to achieve greater protection of the population,” he told reporters.
Children will be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna).
Over 20 percent of Cypriot teenagers aged 16-17 have received a vaccine shot.
“The only way to stop new aggressive Covid-19 variants is to vaccinate,” said Hadjipantelas.
Cyprus is experiencing a new surge in cases, peaking at 1,152 on 15 July.
The surge is blamed on the more potent Delta variant and a low vaccination rate among the under 30s.
In a bid to contain the spike, the cabinet decided Friday that unvaccinated visitors and tourists staying longer than seven days will need to take a PCR test after a week’s stay.
Currently, there are no restrictions on vaccinated tourists entering the country.
The island has endured three national lockdowns in the past 16 months, and the government is trying to avoid another one to save the economy.
Hospitals have postponed all non-emergency operations as Covid wards reach capacity.
The health ministry said Cyprus has inoculated 73 percent of the eligible population with a first jab, and 64 percent are fully vaccinated.
The target is to reach “herd immunity” of 80 percent by the end of August.
Government-controlled southern Cyprus has registered over 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 416 deaths since the pandemic reached its shores in March 2020.
Wearing face masks and social distancing are compulsory.