UN must shoulder responsibility to resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Saudi envoy says

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told Antonio Guterres that the Israel-Palestine issue was “central to the UN agenda since its inception.” (KSA Mission to UN/File Photo)
Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told Antonio Guterres that the Israel-Palestine issue was “central to the UN agenda since its inception.” (KSA Mission to UN/File Photo)
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Updated 08 May 2021

UN must shoulder responsibility to resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Saudi envoy says

Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told Antonio Guterres that the Israel-Palestine issue was “central to the UN agenda since its inception.” (KSA Mission to UN/File Photo)
  • Abdallah Al-Mouallimi also pressed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on his plans to help bring peace to Syria, Yemen and Libya
  • Guterres was making his case to the General Assembly for a second five-year term as UN chief, and answering questions

NEW YORK: It is time for the international community to shoulder its responsibilities to help find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and resolve other conflicts in the region, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN said on Friday.
Speaking on behalf of the UN Arab regional group, Abdallah Al-Mouallimi told Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the Palestinian question has been “central to the UN agenda since its inception,” but “the process to resolve this issue has been at an impasse for decades.”
The envoy was speaking during an informal dialogue session at the UN General Assembly about the selection of the organization’s next secretary-general. In the absence of a serious challenger, Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and UN refugee chief, was making his case for a second, five-year term.
After praising Guterres for his “excellent management of the COVID-19 crisis,” which had limited the spread of the virus within the UN organization, Al-Mouallimi urged the UN chief to make the Palestinian issue a priority during his second term.
He called on him to ensure “serious participation of the parties involved in the conflict” and revitalize the work of the Quartet on the Middle East — the UN, the US, the EU and Russia — “so we end up with a fair peace based on the international consensus as we have enshrined in the relevant resolutions and the international law.”
The Saudi envoy also asked the secretary-general to continue supporting the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) by striving to find a long-term sustainable funding model.
“Your personal commitment to this is very important,” said Al-Mouallimi. “So what are you planning to do to make sure that the peace process in the Middle East, and the Palestinian issue, move forward? What role can the UN play here?”
Guterres replied: “You can count on my total commitment to UNRWA. We have survived a very difficult moment,” he added, referring to the crisis in 2018 when US President Donald Trump withdrew US funding for the agency.
“But the situation looks more promising now and we are totally committed to move in the future in a more effective way.”
The secretary-general reiterated his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Jerusalem as a capital for both states. He pledged to do “everything possible” to revitalize the work of the Quartet and other forms of regional cooperation, but added that this “depends on the will of member states.”
Guterres also expressed his “appreciation for what has been a constructive attitude that Saudi Arabia has been demonstrating in our recent discussions” regarding the war in Yemen.
Al-Mouallimi asked him about his plans to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people and avoid an even greater economic and political disaster in the country.
While lamenting a few “hiccups” in the efforts to resolve the conflict, Guterres said he hoped that an agreement might still be in sight.
“We are moving in a direction, we are totally committed to it, and I am trying to talk to as many actors as possible to make sure pressure is put in this regard,” he added.
Turning to other regional conflicts and the challenges the UN faces in helping to resolve them, Guterres said that pushing for the next meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, for elections to take place at the right time in Libya, and for the withdrawal of foreign troops and mercenaries from conflict zones “is not easy but it must be a priority for all of us.”
Al-Mouallimi then raised the subject of nuclear weapons, saying: “Nuclear danger is present in the Middle East and threatens our people. What is your vision to make sure that the Middle East is an area free of nuclear weapons and that nuclear facilities in the region are subject to IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards?”
“We have a number of initiatives taking place. You can count on my full engagement,” Guterres replied.
He also said that fighting desertification and water scarcity in the Arab world is another of his priorities.
The Saudi envoy then pressed the secretary-general on the unfair geographical distribution of senior leadership appointments at the UN, in particular the under-representation of the Arab world.
Many regional states and groups have expressed concerns that for decades the nominations and appointments of senior UN officials have been monopolized by the most powerful nations, especially the permanent members of the Security Council: the US, Russia, China, the UK and France.
Guterres said although some progress has been made in enhancing geographical parity, he laments the limitations on recruitment and promised to tackle the issue as part of UN reforms.
Al-Mouallimi asked him what the best formula might be to ensure the fairest representation on the Security Council.
“(Former Secretary-General) Kofi Anan already said it: There can’t be reforms of the UN without reforms of the Security Council,” said Guterres. “It all depends on the will of member states. We will always be at the disposal of member states. But we fully respect the autonomy of the UN bodies.”
In response to a question from Al-Mouallimi about the measures that are needed to tackle hate speech, and Islamophobia in particular, Guterres said the latter is a major concern that undermines the cohesion of many societies.
“You can be absolutely sure of my total commitment to fight Islamophobia,” he added.
As part of his vision during a second term, Guterres also called for a new social contract to better address “two seismic shifts” he said will shape this century: the climate crisis and digital transformation.
“Both could widen inequalities even further,” he said.
Seven people have nominated themselves as potential challengers to Guterres, including Rosalia Arteaga, the former president of former Ecuador, but none of them have received the backing of a UN member state.
“Of course, we would like to see more than one candidate,” Enyseh Teimory of 1 for 7 Billion, a global campaign committed to ensuring the selection of the best possible secretary-general, told Arab News.
“But the very fact that the secretary-general was in front of the General Assembly taking questions is a really important consolidation of the progress we saw in 2016.”
In 2016, the General Assembly for the first time hosted an open debate with the 13 candidates for secretary-general, seven of whom were women. For many years the selection was made behind closed doors by the two most powerful member nations: Russia and the US.
“We are in a good (position to ensure) that in 2026 we’re going to go even further to make sure that civil society is fully engaged in all steps of the election process. I think there’s now appetite for (this) on the part of member states.”


Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm
Updated 20 June 2021

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm

Dhaka resumes vaccination drive with China’s Sinopharm
  • Bangladesh had stalled initiative for nearly two months after failing to procure 30 million doses of Covishield from New Delhi

DHAKA: Bangladesh resumed its nationwide inoculation drive against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) with China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Saturday, nearly two months after halting the initiative due to a failed supply of 30 million doses from India.

Starting from January, New Delhi had vowed to deliver the Covishield vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, to Dhaka, in a phased manner.

Bangladesh’s health authorities launched the anti-virus drive in early February after India sent 7 million doses of the Covishield vaccine in two installments.

However, after a sudden spike in COVID-19 infections across the country, New Delhi held back its vaccine exports for domestic consumption, resulting in a stalled supply of the crucial jabs for Dhaka from April.

Bangladesh currently has 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China in recent weeks, which authorities began administering at 67 centers across the country from Saturday.

“We resumed vaccinations on a limited scale, targeting 5.5 million people. It will take two to three weeks to inoculate these people,” Dr. Shamsul Haque, line director at the Directorate General of Health Services, told Arab News.

He added that authorities had devised 10 categories of people to receive the vaccines on a priority basis.

These include frontline health workers; police officials; migrant workers registered with the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training; municipal staff; public school students; employees of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority; and Chinese nationals, among others.

In addition to the 1.1 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine donated by China, Bangladesh has also signed a deal for an additional 15 million jabs of Sinopharm for an undisclosed amount.

“We are expecting to receive the first batch of the Sinopharm vaccine in July. All the procedures are complete at our end. Now, the Chinese authorities are doing some formalities,” Dr. A. S. M. Alamgir, principal scientific officer of the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research, told Arab News on Sunday.

Alamgir added that nearly 1.4 million people have already registered to receive the first dose of the vaccine.

“Our immediate task is to inoculate these people,” he said, adding that the mass vaccination drive will gain traction next month after more doses arrive.

In addition to China’s Sinopharm vaccines, talks are also under way to procure 1 million doses of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine from COVAX, a global vaccine-sharing facility for developing countries led by the World Health Organization (WHO), by the first week of August.

“We are also putting maximum effort to source Russia’s Sputnik vaccines. Discussion is at the final stage now. We can expect Sputnik in the country anytime now,” Alamgir said.

Out of 166 million, only 4.3 million Bangladeshis have received both doses of the vaccine, with experts urging the government to “purchase the COVID-19 vaccines from anywhere as soon as possible.”

“We have to complete this mass inoculation drive in 1.5 to 2 years. Otherwise, the immunity derived from the vaccine will start decreasing, and then we will need to administer another booster dose,” Professor Muzaherul Huq, former adviser at WHO Southeast Asia, told Arab News.

He added that the government should also focus on the domestic production of vaccines.  

“Our government can achieve capacity by producing vaccines in the country through technology transfer from other countries,” Huq said.

“It will take only three months to produce vaccine this way. Private sector pharmaceuticals also should be engaged in this regard,” he added.

One way to do this, he explained, is to increase health infrastructure and human resources at the sub-district level to ensure better health services to the public during the pandemic.  

In recent weeks, Bangladesh has witnessed a spike in COVID-19 infections, with a current infection rate of more than 18 percent.

As of Sunday, the country had registered nearly 850,000 cases and over 13,500 deaths since March last year.


UK’s Labour urged to tackle ‘vile Islamophobia’

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Labour Muslim Network (LMN) has urged Sir Keir Starmer to distance himself and the party from claims antisemitism is to blame for falling support in the Islamic community. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 20 June 2021

UK’s Labour urged to tackle ‘vile Islamophobia’

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  • Muslim groups slam claim that party is losing Muslim support due to its efforts to tackle antisemitism
  • Muslim Council of Britain: Any senior Labour official propagating this view ‘should be sacked’

LONDON: Muslim organizations in the UK have condemned a claim by a senior Labour Party strategist that antisemitism among Muslims is responsible for the main opposition party’s decline in popularity.

The anonymous party strategist told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that Labour is “haemorrhaging” support from Muslims due to “what (party leader) Keir (Starmer) has been doing on antisemitism.”

The source claimed that Muslim voters are frustrated by excessive efforts to tackle antisemitism.

The Labour Muslim Network (LMN) on Sunday wrote to Starmer urging him to “urgently and publicly” challenge this view, saying the anonymous claim is a “patently vile, Islamophobic briefing by a ‘senior Labour official’.”

It added: “This racism needs to be challenged urgently and publicly by the Labour leadership and the party as a whole. There can be no hiding behind the anonymity of the source and briefing.

“LMN and Muslim members expect thorough and immediate action. Islamophobia from ‘senior Labour strategists’ cannot be tolerated.”

The accusations have come ahead of the crucial Batley & Spen by-election in England’s northwest, where Labour is set to lose its seat amid declining Muslim support.

A poll has revealed that Labour is set to lose Batley and Spen, with 47 percent of the vote expected to go to the Conservative Party. 

Miqdaad Versi, a media spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Those who have tried to understand, have identified many local issues as well as Labour positions on Palestine, Kashmir and Islamophobia — and being seen to take Muslim voters for granted. If advisors to the Labour leader don’t get this, they shouldn’t be talking about it.”

He added: “Any senior Labour official who tells the media that Muslims are not voting Labour because Muslims support antisemitism, should be sacked. No ifs, no buts.”


Alleged hitman in UK trial admits to killing Lebanese law student 

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020  in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Supplied: Lancashire Police)
Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Supplied: Lancashire Police)
Updated 20 June 2021

Alleged hitman in UK trial admits to killing Lebanese law student 

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020  in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Supplied: Lancashire Police)
  • Zamir Raja, 33, is one of eight people on trial accused of her murder
  • Hachem and her family moved as refugees to the UK from Lebanon when she was a young girl

LONDON: An alleged hitman accused of shooting dead a 19-year-old Lebanese woman in the UK has admitted killing her and has changed his plea in the middle of an ongoing trial.

Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in the northern English town of Blackburn, and according to a post-mortem examination, died as a result of the gunshot.

The law student was shopping for groceries at the time, and police confirmed that she was not the intended victim of the shooting, adding that she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Zamir Raja, 33, is one of eight people on trial accused of her murder and has admitted manslaughter after initially denying any involvement.

Despite Raja’s change in plea on June 18, the prosecution said that it will continue to push for a murder conviction and alleges that the shooting was the culmination of a long-running dispute between two tire salesmen in the town, the Daily Mail newspaper reported.

The court heard from prosecution lawyers that Raja was allegedly hired by one of the tire salesmen to kill the other, but ended up shooting Hachem in the bungled attack.

“As your Lordship knows, that plea is not acceptable to The Crown and we propose to continue against Mr Raja,” Nicholas Johnson for the prosecution said to Judge Mr. Justice Mark Turner.

Turner, addressing the jury, said: “By way of brief explanation, the position of the prosecution is that they continue to assert that Mr. Raja is guilty of murder.

“As you have heard he has pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but because the prosecution wish to proceed on the murder charge — as they are entitled to elect — the trial will continue.”

Hachem and her family moved as refugees to the UK from Lebanon when she was a young girl.

“Our beautiful 19-year-old daughter Aya has been taken from us in the most horrific circumstances,” her family said in a statement shortly after her death last year.

“She was the most loyal, devoted daughter who enjoyed spending time with her family, especially her brothers and sisters Ibraham, Assil and Amir.”

Aya had excelled during her time at high school in Blackburn and was in her second year at Salford University where she was studying to become a solicitor, according to her family.

At the time of her death, she had just completed her second year exams and was also learning to drive, they added.


Doctor details attempts to save Princess Diana 

A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time. (AFP/File Photo)
A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 20 June 2021

Doctor details attempts to save Princess Diana 

A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time. (AFP/File Photo)
  • MonSef Dahman: ‘We fought hard, we tried a lot, really an awful lot’
  • He said he is speaking out to combat enduring conspiracy theories about princess’s death

LONDON: A doctor who was on duty when Princess Diana was rushed to hospital after her Paris car crash has spoken to the press for the first time about how his team tried “everything possible” to save her life.

Dr. MonSef Dahman was 33 on the night of the infamous crash, serving as a young duty general surgeon at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital.

He had been working a long shift from 8 a.m. the previous day, and was called to the A&E department to treat a “young woman” in the early hours of Aug. 31, 1997.

“I was resting in the duty room when I got a call from Bruno Riou, the senior duty anaesthetist, telling me to go to the emergency room,” Dahman, 56, told Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper.

“I wasn’t told it was Lady Diana, but (only) that there’d been a serious accident involving a young woman.

“The organisation of the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital was very hierarchical. So when you got a call from (such) a high-level colleague, that meant the case was particularly serious.”

Dahman said he realized the gravity of what was unfolding when he arrived at A&E moments later. His duty room was just 50 meters away from the emergency section.

Riou was in the room and personally taking care of the woman on the stretcher, which was a “sign of the special importance,” Dahman said.

It was then that he was told that the patient was Diana, Princess of Wales. “It only took that moment for all this unusual activity to become clear to me,” he added.

“For any doctor, any surgeon, it is of very great importance to be faced with such a young woman who is in this condition. But of course even more so if she is a princess.”

He kept a lid on the full details of Diana’s treatment, but said an X-ray showed she had “very serious internal bleeding” and underwent a procedure to help remove excess fluid from her chest cavity and blood transfusions.

Diana, 36, suffered a cardiac arrest at about 2:15 a.m., prompting the medics to give her an external heart massage and emergency surgery while she was lying on the stretcher in A&E.

“I did this (procedure) to enable her to breathe,” Dahman said. “Her heart couldn’t function properly because it was lacking in blood.

Alain Pavie, one of France’s leading heart surgeons, was woken at home to help save Diana, and she was moved to an operating theater.

He suspected that the team had not found the full details of her internal bleeding, so he conducted further exploratory surgery.

His investigation discovered that she had suffered a tear in her upper left pulmonary vein at the point of contact with the heart.

Pavie sutured the cut, but her heart rate had flattened before the surgical exploration and would not restart.

“We tried electric shocks, several times and, as I had done in the emergency room, cardiac massage,” said Dahman. “Prof. Riou had administered adrenaline. But we could not get her heart beating again.”

The team spent an hour attempting to resuscitate the princess. “We fought hard, we tried a lot, really an awful lot. Frankly, when you are working in those conditions, you don’t notice the passage of time,” Dahman said. “The only thing that is important is that we do everything possible for this young woman.”

The doctor said one of the reasons for breaking his silence on the night of the crash was to demonstrate how the Parisian medical staff had given every effort to save her, in contrast to relentless conspiracy theories about Diana’s death.

A medical review some years after the event reaffirmed Dahman’s statements. “No other strategy would have affected the outcome,” the report concluded.


Ex-Iranian prisoner offered scholarship at Oxford University

Ana Diamond, now a British-Finnish dual national, spent 200 days in solitary confinement aged 19 in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. (Screenshot/Channel 4 News)
Ana Diamond, now a British-Finnish dual national, spent 200 days in solitary confinement aged 19 in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. (Screenshot/Channel 4 News)
Updated 20 June 2021

Ex-Iranian prisoner offered scholarship at Oxford University

Ana Diamond, now a British-Finnish dual national, spent 200 days in solitary confinement aged 19 in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. (Screenshot/Channel 4 News)
  • Ana Diamond, 24, was jailed in notorious Evin prison alongside British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
  • ‘My success demonstrates how dreams cannot be chained, stolen or put in exile. The guards were wrong’

LONDON: A former Finnish-Iranian dual national who was jailed alongside high-profile British-Iranian prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been offered a scholarship at Oxford University, four years after being released through UK diplomatic efforts.

Ana Diamond, now a British-Finnish dual national, spent 200 days in solitary confinement aged 19 in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison, in the same wing as Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

Diamond faced the death penalty after being charged with spying when customs authorities on arrival found images on her laptop of her attending UK political events.

Evin prison guards subjected her to brutal interrogation techniques. “They would say that the only place I would graduate from would be Evin University,” she said.

But Diamond, now 24, proved her Iranian jailers wrong this week after graduating with a first from King’s College and receiving a scholarship to study for a postgraduate degree in modern Persian studies at Oxford University.

She said Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is still under house arrest in Iran, had emailed her with a message of “grace and kindness.”

Richard Ratcliffe, who is seeking to organize his wife’s return to the UK, said the scholarship has “brought his family hope.”

Diamond said: “This is the beginning of a new chapter. My success demonstrates how dreams cannot be chained, stolen or put in exile. The guards were wrong.”

Two years after she was jailed in 2015, then-UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visited Iran urging hostage releases, resulting in all charges against Diamond being dropped.

The UK provided her with an emergency passport and she fled Iran, but has suffered long-term post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and heart problems. Diamond has since helped Ratcliffe campaign for his wife’s release.

Ratcliffe, who has not seen his wife in person since 2015, praised Diamond. “How she has been able to rebuild her life, across the continuing ups and downs and the shadows of Evin, is a reminder that with perseverance, and the care of many other people, Nazanin can learn to feel the sun again when there’s a break in the clouds,” he said.