Lebanese-Israeli maritime border talks last five hours

Lebanese-Israeli maritime border talks last five hours
A naval vessel of the UNIFIL patrols the Mediterranean waters off the coast of the southernmost Lebanese town of Naqura by the border with Israel, on May 4, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 05 May 2021

Lebanese-Israeli maritime border talks last five hours

Lebanese-Israeli maritime border talks last five hours
  • Washington has described the latest talks, to be brokered by US diplomat John Desrocher, as ‘a positive step toward a long-awaited resolution’

BEIRUT: Lebanon and Israel resumed US-mediated talks over their disputed maritime border on Tuesday with more than five hours of discussions at a UN peacekeeping base near the southern Lebanese town of Al-Naqoura.

The resumption of negotiations follows a five-month hiatus in efforts to clear the way for offshore oil and gas exploration.

Washington has described the latest talks, to be brokered by US diplomat John Desrocher, as “a positive step toward a long-awaited resolution.”

A previous round of negotiations was suspended last November after a dispute over an additional area demanded by Lebanon and its insistence on its right to its entire maritime wealth.

The US delegation arrived in the Ras Al-Naqoura border crossing in a convoy of cars from Beirut, while the Lebanese military delegation traveled aboard two helicopters.

Talks took place amid tight security by the army and the UNIFIL forces from the UN headquarters in Al-Naqoura.

President Michel Aoun followed up on negotiations with the caretaker Minister of Defense Zeina Aker in light of the directives he gave to the negotiating delegation at a meeting on Monday.

The US Embassy in Beirut is expected to issue a statement on Wednesday on the course of the negotiation session, the fifth after the resumption of the latest round.

Aoun has refused to sign Decree 6433 to amend the borders drawn by the Lebanese army, according to which Lebanon would get 2,290 square km instead of 860 square km. This disputed area is in a potentially gas-rich region.

Lebanon sent a map in 2011 to the UN relating to a claim of 860 square km. But it was later found that the map was based on wrong approximations and today Lebanon is demanding an additional area of ​​1,430 square km that includes parts of the Karish gas field in which a Greek company works for Israel. The current Lebanese proposal is known as Line 29. Israel accused Lebanon of obstructing negotiations by expanding the disputed area.

Aoun refused to sign the decree to amend the borders, arguing that this requires a Cabinet decision, but Hassan Diab, the caretaker prime minister, refused to hold a Cabinet session, claiming it would contravene the work of the caretaker government.

Lebanon has returned to the negotiating table against a backdrop of political, economic and financial crisis, and is counting on Israel’s need to resolve the disputed areas to accelerate gas exploration and the exploitation of northern fields, where the bulk of its gas wealth is concentrated.

According to a military source, the Lebanese army will begin demarcating the border from point B1 at the last point in Ras Al-Naqoura by land to point 29 in the sea. This demarcation adopts the standards and foundations of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The head of the Lebanese delegation to the negotiations is Pilot Staff Brig. Gen. Bassam Yassin, and the delegation includes Navy Staff Col. Mazen Basbous, expert Naguib Masih, and member of the Petroleum Sector Administration Board, Engineer Wissam Shabat.

The Israeli delegation was headed by the Director-General of the Energy Ministry, Udi Adiri, who was appointed by Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz. The delegation includes Reuven Azar, foreign policy adviser to the prime minister; Alon Bar, head of the Political-Strategic Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Brig. Gen. Oren Setter, head of the Israeli army’s strategic division; lawyer Mor Halutz, chief of staff to the minister of energy; Amit Hoeman, director of the Department of International Law of the Ministry of Foreign Affair; Aviv Ayash, senior adviser to Israel’s minister of energy, and Dr. Haim Srebro, an international expert on borders who previously served as director general of the Survey of Israel.

David Hale, US undersecretary of state, who visited Beirut a few weeks ago, paved the way for the resumption of negotiations.

Agence France-Presse quoted a Lebanese presidency source as saying the negotiations “will pick up where it left, and we do not accept the line proposed by the Israeli side, and they do not accept ours, so we will see what the mediator proposes.”

Civil activists called on social media for a gathering on Tuesday in Martyrs’ Square in Beirut under the banner “Neglecting our oil rights is high treason.”

 


Houthi offensive on Marib weakens as rebels suffer attritions, defections

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 18 May 2021

Houthi offensive on Marib weakens as rebels suffer attritions, defections

A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Yemeni news media say Houthis concede to more than 500 deaths among fighters during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13
  • Houthis move troops from less intense battlefields to Marib to shore up depleted forces after fighters abandon their recruitment campaigns, military source says

AL-MUKALLA: The Iran-backed Houthi military offensive on Yemen’s central city of Marib has tapered off as the rebels have suffered heavy casualties, defections and stiff resistance from Yemen’s army and allied tribesmen, three military sources told Arab News.

Houthis have been mounting a major offensive on the city of Marib since February in a bid to seize control of the government’s last bastion in the northern half of the country, which contains rich oil reserves, gas fields and big electricity stations. 

The offensive has claimed the lives of thousands of combatants on both sides and triggered a huge displacement from contested areas in and around Marib. 

This week, Yemeni military officials say the intensity of the Houthi offensive has largely eased up for the first time since February as the rebels have dispatched fewer fighters and military equipment to the battlefields. 

“The Houthi attacks on Marib have decreased in May compared to April,” Yemeni army spokesperson Maj. Gen. Abdu Abdullah Majili told Arab News on Tuesday.

During the past four months, the Houthis have rejected local and international calls for stopping their deadly assault on Marib amid warnings that their invasion of the strategic city would aggravate the already desperate humanitarian situation in Yemen. The city hosts more than 2 million internally displaced people who have fled fighting or Houthi crackdown in their home cities and villages. 

Yemeni officials believe the Houthis in the Marib province have been weakened by heavy casualties, intensive airstrikes, attritions and local tribes’ reluctance to join the fighting. 

Col. Yahiya Al-Hatemi, director of Yemen's army’s military media, told Arab News that the growing number of deaths among Houthis in Marib has prompted many Yemenis to reject Houthi calls for fighting government troops. 

“The Houthi attacks (in Marib) have decreased. People have refused to join their ranks as a result of the massacres that took place in recent battles in Marib,” Al-Hatemi said. 

Arab coalition warplanes have long been credited for foiling Houthi attempts to advance on the ground by targeting rebels’ reinforcements and military locations, Yemeni military officials say.

The government’s news media said the Houthis have officially admitted to the deaths of more than 500 fighters during the holy month of Ramadan, which started on April 13.

Based on Houthi media reports, Al-Masdr Online, a popular Yemeni news site, said the rebels had arranged funeral processions for 522 fighters. That number includes many high-ranking military leaders who were killed in fighting with government troops or by Arab coalition airstrikes in Marib between April 13 and May 12.

A military source with contacts inside Houthi-controlled territories told Arab News the Houthis have moved troops from less intense battlefields to Marib to shore up their depleted forces after fighters abandoned their recruitment campaigns.

“Many people abandoned their weapons and returned to their houses after the Houthis lied about making victory in Marib. Those who are fighting in Marib came from other battlefields,” said the military source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

At the same time, the Yemeni government and military officials have warned that the Houthis are trying to cash in on the growing resentment in Yemen toward the Israeli military operations in Gaza. They are using that conflict to recruit new fighters and raise funds for their weakened offensive in Marib.

“We warn citizens in the areas controlled by the Houthi militia against falling victim to the Houthi exploitation and misinformation which uses the Palestinian cause and the tragedy of our steadfast Palestinian people in the occupied territories for making political gains with the aim of prolonging the war in Yemen and continuing to kill Yemenis,” Muammar Al-Eryani, Yemen’s minister of information, wrote on Twitter.

The Yemeni government has once again threatened more military operations if the rebels do not halt their offensive on Marib and continue to reject peace initiatives. 

During a meeting with French Ambassador to Yemen Jean-Marie Safa in Riyadh on Monday, the speaker of the Yemeni parliament, Sultan Al-Barkani, warned that the Yemeni government could intensify military options until the Houthis accept UN- and US-brokered peace ideas and cease their attacks on Yemeni civilians.


General strike against Israel ‘shows Palestinian unity’

A man smokes near closed shops at a market in Jerusalem's old city, during a general strike called by Palestinians (Reuters)
A man smokes near closed shops at a market in Jerusalem's old city, during a general strike called by Palestinians (Reuters)
Updated 18 May 2021

General strike against Israel ‘shows Palestinian unity’

A man smokes near closed shops at a market in Jerusalem's old city, during a general strike called by Palestinians (Reuters)
  • Haifa-based Arab Follow-up Committee arranges Tuesday protest in response to Israeli attacks on Gaza and the West Bank
  • Different Palestinian factions join the strike as laborers and professionals stay home in an attempt to paralyze the Israeli economy

AMMAN: Residents of Gaza and the West Bank held a historic general strike on Tuesday that reflected the unity of the Palestinian people.

The Haifa-based Arab Follow-up Committee arranged the protest as the call was picked up by all the Palestinian communities that have been targeted by unprecedented and unrelenting Israeli shelling over the past two weeks.

Palestinians laborers and professionals stayed home in an attempt to paralyze the Israeli economy. The Committee of East Jerusalem Merchants put out a statement calling on all shops to close as Palestinians of all walks of life adhered to the protest call.

Mohammad Baraka, head of the Higher Follow-up Committee of Arab Citizens in Israel, told Arab News that the strike idea was agreed upon in a meeting in Jaffa on Sunday.

“As soon as we announced our decision, we got calls from different Palestinian factions, led by Fatah, which wanted to join the strike call,” he said. “Others also followed and the strike encompassed all of historic Palestine.”

Officials said the strike was in response to the brutal Israeli attack on the Al-Aqsa compound, Israeli efforts to evict Palestinian families from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the “attacks against our people in Israel.”

According to Baraka, more than 1,000 Palestinian youth have been imprisoned and 200 have been charged during the conflict while only 150 Jewish people have been picked up and none have been charged.

“The deeper meaning of this strike is that anyone who wants to break the Palestinian spirit because of the weakness of the Arab world will be disappointed,” Baraka said. “Armies may lose a war but people never lose.”

Vera Baboun, former mayor of Bethlehem and member of the Palestine National Council, called the strike historic. 

“The May 18 strike is a protest of our dignity that shines the light on 73 years of violations to our people’s rights in the occupied territories and in the 1948 areas,” she said.

Khalil El-Halabim, whose son was jailed for allegedly diverting money to Hamas, told Arab News that the strike has united all Palestinians. 

“Our goals are clearly united now,” he said. “This strike has illustrated the fact that the Palestinian cause has returned to center stage on the international community’s political agenda.”

Adnan Tarabshe, a Galilee-based theater actor, told Arab News that the strike reflected Palestinian anger but had a much more significant purpose. 

“It destroyed the claims by (former fourth Israeli premier) Golda Meir that older people will die and the young will forget,” he said. “The Palestinian people are here to stay and will not forget.”

Ghassan Khatib, the former Palestinian minister of labor, said the strike was a rejection of the racist Israeli policy toward Palestinians. 

“It is a reflection of the failure of Israel in absorbing Palestinians in the 1948 areas or oppressing Jerusalemites and Palestinians in the West Bank,” he told Arab News.

Khatib blamed the US for the Israeli arrogance “that we are witnessing now.”

Salah Zuheika, a political activist in Jerusalem, compared the strike to the Land Day Protest that was held on March 30, 1976, which is an important date on the Palestinian national calendar.

Jerusalem-based Orthodox Bishop Atallah Hanna told Arab News that the strike sent a message to all Palestinians to protest against unjust Israeli policies, especially the destruction in Gaza. 

“Children and elderly, men and women are all being attacked,” he said. “This strike was a civilized and effective way to send a message to the world that we seek peace with justice.”

William Tarazi, a Gaza-based businessman, told Arab News: “The strike was a simple response. We do not need only a strike or protest. We need a holistic approach that includes political and military actions as well as protests.”

Radi Jirai, a Fatah activist who supports the one-state solution, told Arab News that the strike was another sign that the Palestinian national identity has survived despite Zionist attempts. 

“This unity of Palestinians paves the way for a new Palestinian strategy based on the unity of the people and land in Palestine,” he said. “It is the defeat of the Zionist program and stresses the need for a single democratic state to be established on the ruins of the Zionist apartheid.”

Tourism businesswoman from Jerusalem, Margo Tarazi, believed the strike showed Israel that the Palestinian people are united. 

“Israel and our leaders have seen that after 73 years, the people of Palestine are united from the sea to the river (the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea) and we will get our legitimate rights through our unity,” she told Arab News.


Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza

Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza
Updated 18 May 2021

Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza

Egypt allocates $500m to rebuild Gaza
  • El-Sisi has ordered the government to coordinate with Palestinians in Gaza

CAIRO: Egypt is allocating $500 million for reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip following Israeli airstrikes, with President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi saying that specialist Egyptian firms would contribute to the rebuilding efforts.

“We will work to solve the crisis,” El-Sisi said on the sidelines of a conference in Paris. “There is hope for collective action to end the conflict.”

El-Sisi has ordered the government to coordinate with Palestinians in Gaza to find out what their needs are and fulfill them.

Egypt has opened the Rafah crossing through which travelers, students and those wishing to receive medical treatment have begun arriving.

Egypt is leading mediation efforts to reach a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians.


UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot
Updated 18 May 2021

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot

UAE says it will offer Sinopharm booster shot
  • The move is part of the UAE's "proactive strategy to provide maximum protection for society”
  • The country of some 9 million has vaccinated around 73% of the eligible population

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates said on Tuesday it would offer a booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine from China’s state-owned drug-maker Sinopharm for those who have already received two doses.
The move is part of the UAE’s “proactive strategy to provide maximum protection for society,” the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority (NCEMA) said, with priority given to those aged above 60 or suffering a chronic disease.
The country of some 9 million has vaccinated around 73 percent of the eligible population, NCEMA said. The UAE is providing four vaccines for free but does not provide a breakdown for each one.
The UAE, a regional business and tourism hub, on Tuesday reported 1,270 new coronavirus infections to take the total to 548,681 cases with 1,637 deaths.
The World Health Organization, which last week approved Sinopharm for emergency use, has said a large Phase III trial of Sinopharm had shown that two doses, administered at an interval of 21 days, have an efficacy of 79 percent against symptomatic infection, 14 or more days after the second dose.
The UAE has started manufacturing the Chinese vaccine under a joint venture between Sinopharm and Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42.


Egypt sends medicines to Gaza, prepares hospitals for Palestinians

Egypt sends medicines to Gaza, prepares hospitals for Palestinians
Children of the Palestinian Abu Dayer family cry at Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital after deaths of family members in an Israeli airstrike on the family’s home. (AFP)
Updated 54 min 20 sec ago

Egypt sends medicines to Gaza, prepares hospitals for Palestinians

Egypt sends medicines to Gaza, prepares hospitals for Palestinians
  • Critical surgical supplies include specialist burn treatments as well as ‘ventilators, oxygen tanks and syringes,’ says health minister

CAIRO: Egypt has sent 65 tons of medical aid to the Gaza Strip after a week of Israeli strikes left more than 200 Palestinians dead and hundreds more injured, health officials have said.

With hospitals in Gaza overwhelmed by patients, the critical surgical supplies include specialist burn treatments as well as “ventilators, oxygen tanks and syringes,” Health Minister Hala Zayed said on Monday.

She said that the medicine and medical supplies are worth about 14 million Egyptian pounds ($900,000).

Sources said that 26 trucks containing food items have also been sent to Gaza, on top of 50 ambulances to transport the wounded. Egypt also said that it will provide 11 field hospitals containing more than 900 beds.

The shipment includes anesthesia medicines, antibiotics, analgesics, medicines, ointments for burns, and medicines for blood pressure, diabetes, kidneys, chronic and chest diseases.

Khaled Mujahid, health ministry spokesman, said that cooperation between regional blood banks in the North Sinai and Ismailia governorates, and the Egyptian Blood Transfusion Service in Cairo, will supply Palestinian hospitals with urgent supplies of blood as needed.

He added that the hospitals of Bir Al-Abd, Al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid in North Sinai — with a total capacity of 288 general beds, 81 intensive care beds, 233 doctors and 44 ventilators — are ready to receive injured Palestinians through the Rafah crossing.

Mujahid said that medical reinforcements have been sent to the three hospitals that will remain for three months, adding that the facilities are supported by 37 medical teams covering emergency and intensive care, and anesthesia, heart, brain, nerve, bone and vascular surgery.

He said that the Ismailia Medical Complex and Abu Khalifa Emergency Hospital in the Ismailia Governorate are also offering 385 general beds, 85 intensive care beds, and 1,145 doctors and nurses, and will receive patients from Palestine that require urgent medical treatment.

A central operations room has been set up at the Ministry of Health to follow up on medical services to Palestine, and to communicate between various sectors of the ministry and governorates, Mujahid added.

Israel launched its campaign on the Gaza Strip on May 10 following unrest in East Jerusalem.

The Hamas-run local health ministry said that Israeli airstrikes have killed 213 Palestinians, including 61 children, and wounded more than 1,400 people in Gaza.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that almost 47,000 Palestinians have fled their homes during the airstrike campaign, The Associated Press reported.

Airstrikes have also destroyed the sole COVID-19 testing laboratory in Gaza, the local health ministry said.