US calls for ‘immediate withdrawal’ of foreign forces from Libya at G-7 meeting

Foreign minsters of the UK, US, Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany, France and the EU high representative for foreign affairs attend G7 foreign ministers meeting in London on May 4, 2021. (AFP)
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Foreign minsters of the UK, US, Canada, Japan, Italy, Germany, France and the EU high representative for foreign affairs attend G7 foreign ministers meeting in London on May 4, 2021. (AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) sits with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio, at the start of the G7 foreign ministers meeting in London Tuesday May 4, 2021. (AP)
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) sits with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio, at the start of the G7 foreign ministers meeting in London Tuesday May 4, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 04 May 2021

US calls for ‘immediate withdrawal’ of foreign forces from Libya at G-7 meeting

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) sits with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio, at the start of the G7 foreign ministers meeting in London Tuesday May 4, 2021. (AP)
  • G-7 foreign ministers also held a separate session on the war and humanitarian crisis in Syria
  • Blinken said some progress made in Iran nuclear deal talks in Vienna

LONDON: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called for the “immediate withdrawal of foreign forces” from Libya during a meeting of the Group of Seven nations on Tuesday.
G-7 foreign ministers met in London for their first face-to-face talks in more than two years, with calls for urgent action to tackle the most pressing global issues.
Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed intervention ended Muammar Qaddafi’s four-decade rule in 2011 and has been split since 2014 between warring administrations in the west and east.
During the meeting, Blinken renewed Washington’s support for the Libyan government to hold elections in December and said the US “stands with the Libyan people to find a UN-facilitated political solution to the conflict.”
UN sponsored talks produced a new interim government for Libya in early February aimed at resolving a decade of chaos by holding national elections later this year.

The latest UN process also involved a cease-fire, but not all terms of the truce have been met.
G-7 foreign ministers from the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US also held a separate session on the war and humanitarian crisis in Syria.
“My G-7 counterparts and I reaffirmed our commitment to a political resolution for ending the conflict in Syria and support to the reauthorization of the UN cross-border aid mechanism,” Blinken said in a tweet following the meeting.
He said they would continue working to advance all aspects of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which calls for a cease-fire and political settlement, and “end the suffering of Syrians.”

On Iran, Blinken said they have had serious discussions in Vienna over the past few weeks and that some progress has been made, “at least in demonstrating the seriousness with which the United States takes the effort to return to mutual compliance” with the Iranian nuclear deal.
“We still have a long way to go if we are going to get anywhere, and we still have to see whether Iran is willing and able to make the necessary decisions on its part for returning to compliance,” Blinken told the Financial Times.
Britain currently holds the rotating G-7 presidency and is set to host a leaders summit in Cornwall next month.
(With AP and Reuters)


More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons

More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons
Updated 07 May 2021

More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons

More bickering as UN meets for 89th time to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons
  • Russia again defends Assad regime and condemns Western nations for Syria’s suspension from Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
  • Security Council hears the organization’s investigators found evidence of a chlorine gas attack on town of Saraqib in February 2018

NEW YORK: A Syrian Air Force helicopter dropped a chlorine bomb on the opposition-held town of Saraqib, on Feb. 4, 2018, an investigation team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has concluded.

Investigators found “reasonable grounds to believe” at least one cylinder landed in the eastern part of the town, releasing a cloud of toxic gas that covered a large area and affected 12 people.

The incident was the focus on Thursday of a Security Council meeting to discuss the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, and its failure to comply with a UN resolution ordering the destruction of all such weapons. It was the 89th time the council has gathered to discuss the issue of chemical weapons in Syria.

Members were briefed by Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN’s under-secretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, on the implementation of Resolution 2118. It was unanimously adopted in September 2013 following a UN investigation that confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of people, including children, suffocating after breathing in the nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.

The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014, and set out punitive measures in the event of non-compliance. It banned the regime from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.

In October 2013, Syria submitted to the OPCW a formal initial declaration about its chemical-weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of its stockpiles. Since then, however, the OPCW’s Declaration Assessment Team has been trying to resolve outstanding issues with the regime’s declaration.

Nakamitsu told the council the declaration still cannot be considered accurate and complete because of “identified gaps, and inconsistencies and discrepancies that remain unresolved.”

A new issue has been added to the list of 19 existing issues that remain outstanding because the Syrian government has failed to respond to a UN order to disclose the types and quantities of chemical agents produced or weaponized at various sites.

The new issue concerns the discovery by OPCW of a “neat chemical warfare agent” in samples collected from a former chemical weapons production facility. The Syrian government had not declared the production of this chemical agent, and the explanations it gave for its detection were described by Nakamitsu as “not sufficient to explain the results from the sample analysis.”

She said the number and nature of the outstanding issues is “concerning,” and added: “The confidence of the international community in the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons program depends upon these issues being finalized.”

Nakamitsu urged the council to “unite on this issue” but her plea fell on deaf ears.

The Russian representative came to the defense of the Assad regime and again attempted to discredit the OPCW by saying its report is “replete with technical errors and does not stand up to any criticism,” and describing it as a “forgery” in which “free thinkers” who refused to take part were “intimated.”

Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative, also criticized Western countries for suspending the rights and privileges of Syria at the OPCW.

Last month, states that are parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) suspended Syria’s OPCW membership because of its non-compliance with the treaty. The decision bars Syria from voting at CWC conferences or serving on the OPCW until it fulfills certain obligations, including declaring the chemical weapons it possesses and related production facilities, and resolving all outstanding issues with its initial declaration.

Human Rights Watch had said: “Syria’s use of chemical weapons is the biggest implementation and compliance crisis parties have faced since (the CWC came) into force in 1997.

“While this move (the Syrian suspension) would be largely symbolic, it is essential to remind the world of the extent and severity of war crimes by Syrian government forces.”

Polyanskiy said the unprecedented suspension was “a violation of norms by Western colleagues (and) another blow has been dealt to the OPCW’s credibility.” He added that it is part of an anti-Syria campaign that seeks to make Damascus an outcast in the OPCW.

“Do (Western countries) really expect that they will continue to do business as usual with Damascus?” he asked.

The rest of the council welcomed the “historic decision” by the Conference of the States Parties.

Richard Mills, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, said it “sends a clear and collective message that the use of chemical weapons has consequences, and repeated failures by Syria to adhere to its obligations will not be tolerated.”

He added: “It is time for the Assad regime to adhere to its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and Resolution 2118.”

Mills told his fellow council members that the findings of the investigation into the chlorine attack “should come as no surprise to those familiar with the abuses committed by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.”

Although the OPCW has attributed eight chemical weapons attacks to the regime, Mills said: “The United States assesses that the regime’s innumerable atrocities — some of which rise to the level of war crimes, crimes against humanity — include at least 50 chemical-weapons attacks since the conflict began.”

He accused the Assad regime of retaining sufficient supplies of chemicals that allow it to use sarin gas, to produce and deploy chlorine-based weapons, and to develop and produce other chemical weapons. The OPCW report, he said, is just the latest reminder of the regime’s flagrant disregard for the rule of law.

Mills also criticized Russia for holding an informal meeting last month to “impugn the OPCW and push a false narrative (of) a Western plot to attempt regime change in Damascus.”

“This Council and UN member states are not fooled by this Russian disinformation tactic,” he added, noting that the majority of council members refute the arguments by Russia and “its hand-selected presenters.”

Nicolas de Riviere, France’s permanent representative to the UN, who initiated the proposal to suspend Syria’s OPCW rights, said: “Let’s be clear, we are not pleased about having to suspend some rights and privileges of a state party. It is the flagrant and repeated violations of its international commitments that have left us with no choice.

“If Syria hopes to restore its rights and privileges, then it must comply with its international obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which it chose to adhere.”


UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths
Updated 07 May 2021

UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

UAE confirms 1,724 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths
  • UAE vaccine distribution rate is now at 110.28 doses per 100 people

DUBAI: UAE health officials confirmed 1,724 new coronavirus cases and three additional fatalities overnight even amid a continued nationwide vaccination campaign against the highly contagious disease.

The latest cases bring the total number of recorded infections in the UAE to 530,944 and the number of deaths to 1,604, the Ministry of Health and Prevention said in a report from state news agency WAM.

The ministry aims to continue expanding the scope of testing nationwide to facilitate the early detection of coronavirus cases and carry out the necessary treatment, the report added.

Meanwhile, an additional 72,811 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered during the past 24 hours for a total of 10,907,264 doses thus far or a distribution rate of 110.28 doses per 100 people.


Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’
Updated 07 May 2021

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’

Merkel tells Turkey’s Erdogan withdrawal of troops from Libya would be ‘important signal’
  • Merkel and Erdogan agreed in a video conference to support the interim government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Libya would be an “important signal” as both leaders vowed to support the new interim government there, a German government spokesman said.
Libya’s new unity government was sworn in on March 15 from two warring administrations that had ruled eastern and western regions, completing a relatively smooth transition of power after a decade of violent chaos.
Turkey had backed the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord against the eastern-based Libyan National Army, which was supported by Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France.
Merkel and Erdogan agreed in a video conference to support the interim government of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh in its efforts to improve the supply situation for the population and in preparing elections by year-end, the spokesman said.
“The Chancellor emphasized that an early start of the withdrawal of foreign soldiers and mercenaries would send an important signal,” the spokesman added.
Merkel and Erdogan also discussed international efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic as well as regional issues such as the civil war in Syria and international talks about the Cyprus issue, the spokesman said.
“The Chancellor and the Turkish President emphasized that adequate access for humanitarian aid to the people in need in Syria must be maintained,” the spokesman said. (Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alistair Bell)


Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed
Updated 06 May 2021

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood eviction appeal delayed

JERUSALEM: The lone Israeli court judge looking into the eviction appeal lodged by Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem has decided to let three judges of the Supreme Court take up the case on Monday.

The decision follows the rejection of both the Jewish settler organization and lawyers for the Palestinian families to reach an agreement between them as requested by the judge.

Lawyer Hosni Abu Hussein, representing the Palestinian families, told Arab News that the Israeli judge did not have the courage to take the right decision.

“Our request to appeal the eviction was based on sound legal arguments that any judge would have easily accepted but the prevailing atmosphere made it difficult for the judge to stand up for justice.”

Head of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel Mohammad Baraka and member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi met with representatives of the families in Jerusalem and later issued a statement of support for their “steadfastness” and their rejections of compromise offers.

Tibi told Arab News that the priority is to support the Palestinian families and to protect the Arab identity of Jerusalem. “It is clear that the aim of this unjust eviction effort is to Judaize the Arab city of Jerusalem,” he said.

Abdel Latif Ghaith, a senior veteran Jerusalem activist, told Arab News that the public support for the people of Sheikh Jarrah must continue without any hesitation.

“What is clear is that the Israeli courts will not act on their own even in a case where justice is so obvious. The public pressure both local, regional and international, together with the legal effort and the undisputed documentation, will reverse the effort of the Jewish settlers bent on taking over this Palestinian area,” he said.

Ehab Abdel Latif, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah who has illegal Jewish settlers on two sides of his house, said he is worried. “Although we are not at present threatened with eviction, if the Israeli courts insist on turning a blind eye to the facts in this case and give unquestioned support to the Jewish settlers, then we are all doomed.”


Jordan was in control of Jerusalem when the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) built housing units on the vacant land and started to charge Palestinians rent. Settler organizations, which also claim to be the owners of the land, are now demanding rent payment.

Layer Abu Hussein explained that the compromise the courts wanted failed because of the gap between both sides. Palestinians said that they are willing to avoid eviction on grounds of not paying the rent by depositing the rent to a fund at the courts, while the Jewish settler organization Lahav Shomron is willing to allow the Palestinians to stay at their homes on condition that they pay rent to them. But if this happens the settlers will be considered landowners.

According to the rent protection law in Jerusalem, the offer by the settler organization allows Palestinian families to stay as long as a designated member of the family is alive. Thereafter, the settler organization would take over the homes. Palestinian residents have rejected this offer.

New evidence, which has emerged from the Ottoman records in Turkey and the Jordanian government, proves Jordan and the UNRWA agreed to build housing units on the land for Palestinians, Abu Hussein said. The land actually belonged to the Hijazi Saadi family, dated 1149 Hijri (1736 AD).

Using old Ottoman documents, the settlers’ side said the land belonged to an oriental Jewish group that registered itself in 1972.

Palestinian lawyers dispute this claim, arguing that the documents in the Ottoman archives in Istanbul that the settlers refer to do not exist and are forged.

Abu Hussein said that settlers have made ownership claims without proof that they are the original owners of the land.


Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat
Updated 06 May 2021

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat

Ethiopian dam is ‘existential issue’ for Egypt, El-Sisi tells US diplomat
  • El-Sisi said Egypt has adopted a flexible approach to the issue over the years through a range of negotiation methods

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has reiterated that the issue of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam (GERD) is an “existential issue” for Egyptians, adding that his country will not accept any risk to its water supply.

In a meeting with US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman on Wednesday, El-Sisi said Egypt is keen to enhance bilateral cooperation with the US and underlined the vital role of such a partnership in achieving stability in the Middle East and Africa.

A spokesman for El-Sisi said the two men discussed several issues relevant to the Horn of Africa, foremost of which was the GERD. Feltman said the US is keen to help reach “a fair and comprehensive settlement” to the matter, given its great importance to Egypt and the region.

Ethiopia started building the 1.8 km-long gravity dam in 2011. Egypt fears it will threaten its supplies of water from the River Nile. Sudan, meanwhile, is concerned about the dam’s safety and its effect on the water supply of Sudanese dams and water stations.

El-Sisi said Egypt has adopted a flexible approach to the issue over the years through a range of negotiation methods. Egypt’s approach, he said, has been based on seeking a “balanced and legally binding” agreement that respects the interests of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. He blamed Ethiopia’s “lack of political will” for the failure of negotiations to date.

The president stressed that Egypt is still seeking a fair agreement regarding the filling and operation of the dam under the negotiations sponsored by the African Union, led this year by Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi.

El-Sisi called on the international community to “assume its responsibilities” to help solve the crisis. The president also highlighted the vital role of US influence in this regard.

Feltman said the US values its strategic relations with Egypt highly in light of Cairo’s political influence and pivotal role in the region. The envoy also stressed America’s desire to boost cooperation with Egypt.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohamed Abdel-Ati also met with Feltman. They told him that Egypt still hopes to reach an agreement over the GERD before summer this year.

They added that the process of filling the dam should be carried out according to an agreement that respects the interests of Egypt and Sudan — the two downstream nations — and limits any damage to those two countries.

During their meeting with Feltman, the ministers expressed Egypt’s willingness do as much as possible to ensure the success of the negotiations sponsored by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Both ministers said Egypt is looking forward to cooperating with its international partners, especially the US, to achieve this goal.