UN peace envoy warns of ‘all-out war’ as Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues

UN peace envoy warns of ‘all-out war’ as Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues
Smoke and flames rise from a tower building as it is destroyed by Israeli air strikes amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Gaza City, May 12, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 13 May 2021

UN peace envoy warns of ‘all-out war’ as Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues

UN peace envoy warns of ‘all-out war’ as Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues
  • Tor Wennesland: Cease fire immediately. We are escalating toward an all-out war. Leaders on all sides must take responsibility for de-escalation
  • Wennesland: The cost of the war in Gaza is devastating and paid for by ordinary people. The UN is working with all parties to restore calm. Stop the violence now

GAZA CITY: The UN’s Middle East peace envoy on Wednesday warned of “all-out war” unless there was an “immediate ceasefire” as Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip saw a dramatic rise in the Palestinian death toll.

Loud explosions continued throughout the day as Israel pounded Hamas targets and forces in Gaza responded by launching hundreds of rockets deep into Israeli territory.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that at least 56 people had so far been killed, including 14 children, five women, and an elderly man, while more than 335 had been injured.

In a statement, Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said: “Cease fire immediately. We are escalating toward an all-out war. Leaders on all sides must take responsibility for de-escalation.

“The cost of the war in Gaza is devastating and paid for by ordinary people. The UN is working with all parties to restore calm. Stop the violence now.”

Palestinian and Israeli reports said efforts were being made by Egypt, the UN, and a number of other countries to restore calm and return to the ceasefire agreement.

The bloodshed was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.

Military exchanges have escalated over recent days, sparking international pleas for an end to the violence.

On Wednesday, Israel targeted a number of Hamas government buildings and houses, private cars, agricultural plots, and military training sites belonging to the movement and Islamic Jihad were also hit.

Bombing was stepped up following the destruction of two residential towers in Gaza City, and Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, retaliated by firing a barrage of rockets toward Tel Aviv and Beersheba. The commander of the Gaza brigade, Basem Issa, along with others were reported to have been killed during the strikes.

The Islamic Jihad announced that a number of its leaders belonging to its missile unit, most notably Muhammad Abu Al-Ata, died when an apartment in the center of Gaza City was hit.

Al-Qassam Brigades and Al-Quds Brigades fired hundreds of rockets toward Tel Aviv and Beersheba — cities far from Gaza that had not previously been targeted.

Mother-of-three Sherine Awad, 38, told Arab News: “The terror and fear do not stop. After the towers were hit, I moved from my apartment because it is in a high-rise. I moved to my friend’s house with my children, but last night a house was bombed near the place I took shelter in.

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“This is not life. We cannot bear all this. The bombing does not stop, and the terrifying sounds are nonstop. My children are in a state of fear and shock. Our life has taken a U-turn from what was planned for the Eid reception.”

The streets of Gaza City were mostly empty on Wednesday except for some pedestrians and cars, while most of the shops remained closed barring some grocery stores.

Ahmed Al-Kahlout, a grocer on Nasr Street, told Arab News that on the last day of Ramadan people still needed supplies and “fear does not prevent them from buying food.

“There are deaths, but people in their homes want to eat. This is not the first time Gaza has faced an escalation, but this time it is the most severe since the 2014 war,” he said.

Despite both sides in the conflict threatening further bombing, Palestinians in Gaza are hoping the latest round of bloodshed and destruction will end soon.

“We hope this will end. It will definitely end, but when? Nobody knows. Hopefully, it will be soon,” Awad said.


Amnesty accuses Iran’s newly-elected president of ‘crimes against humanity’

Amnesty accuses Iran’s newly-elected president of ‘crimes against humanity’
Updated 21 min 13 sec ago

Amnesty accuses Iran’s newly-elected president of ‘crimes against humanity’

Amnesty accuses Iran’s newly-elected president of ‘crimes against humanity’

DUBAI: Amnesty International released a report Saturday saying that Iran’s newly elected leader Ebrahim Raisi is involved in crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and forced disappearances.

The report, which came out a few hours after Raisi was named the winner of the Islamic republic’s presidential election, denounces his rise to presidency instead of undergoing investigation.

Citing Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard, the report said: “Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”

“In 2018, our organization documented how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988. The circumstances surrounding the fate of the victims and the whereabouts of their bodies are, to this day, systematically concealed by the Iranian authorities, amounting to ongoing crimes against humanity.”

The report also said: “‘As Head of the Iranian Judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has presided over a spiralling crackdown on human rights which has seen hundreds of peaceful dissidents, human rights defenders and members of persecuted minority groups arbitrarily detained.

Dressed in a black turban and cleric’s coat, Raisi casts himself as an austere and pious figure and an corruption-fighting champion of the poor.

Critics charge the election was skewed in his favor as strong rivals were disqualified, but to his loyal supporters he is Iran’s best hope for standing up to the West and bringing relief from a deep economic crisis.

Raisi is not renowned for great charisma but, as head of the judiciary, has driven a popular campaign to prosecute corrupt officials.

Raisi is set to take over from moderate Hassan Rouhani in August.

(With AFP)


Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir
Updated 19 June 2021

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir

Battle for the Nile: How Egypt will be impacted by Ethiopia’s filling of GERD reservoir
  • For 10 years Ethiopia has failed to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan on how quickly the reservoir should be filled
  • On the eve of the summer rains on the Ethiopian Highlands, the dam is all but complete and filling is about to begin

LONDON: In the decade since Ethiopia announced it was going to build Africa’s biggest hydropower dam on the Blue Nile, the source of the bulk of Egypt’s water, the prospect has loomed over Egyptians as an existential threat.

For 10 years Ethiopia has failed to reach an agreement with Egypt and Sudan, its two downstream neighbors, on how quickly its vast reservoir should be filled, and how the electricity-generating Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be operated in the years to come. Now, on the eve of the anticipated annual summer rains that fall on the Ethiopian Highlands, the dam is all but complete and filling is about to begin in earnest.

DEEP DIVE: For a longer, interactive version of this story: https://www.arabnews.com/BattleForTheNile


Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
Updated 19 June 2021

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
  • Hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi was seen as all but certain to emerge victorious
  • Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad joined those who said they would not cast their ballot

TEHRAN: Congratulations poured in for Iranian ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday for winning presidential elections even before official results were announced.
Iran’s outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani said his successor had been elected in the previous day’s vote, without naming the widely expected winner, Raisi.
“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said Rouhani. “My official congratulations will come later, but we know who got enough votes in this election and who is elected today by the people.”
The other two ultraconservative candidates – Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi – explicitly congratulated Raisi.
“I congratulate ... Raisi, elected by the nation,” Ghazizadeh-Hashemi said, quoted by Iranian media.
And Rezai tweeted that he hoped Raisi could build “a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems”.
The only reformist in the race, former central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, also tweeted his congratulations to Raisi.
Raisi, 60, would take over from moderate Rouhani at a time the Islamic republic is seeking to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a painful economic downturn.
Raisi, the head of the judiciary whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate political power in Iran.
The moderate candidate in Iran’s presidential election has conceded he lost to the country’s hard-line judiciary chief.
Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati wrote on Instagram to judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi early Saturday.
Hemmati wrote: “I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran.”
Voting on Friday was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout of 50 percent or less.
Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls was winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.
Three of the vetted candidates dropped out of the race two days before Friday’s election, and two of them threw their support behind Raisi.
Former populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those who were disqualified by the powerful 12-member Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, joined those who said they would not cast their ballot.
Raisi’s only rival from the reformist camp was the low-profile former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, 65, who had polled in the low single digits before the election.
Iran’s electorate, of now almost 60 million eligible voters, has delivered surprise results before, observers warn. If no clear winner emerges, a runoff will be held next Friday.
On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters in the country of 83 million dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election.
“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” scoffed Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. “They organize the elections for the media.”
Enthusiasm has been dampened further by the economic malaise of spiralling inflation and job losses, and the pandemic that proved more deadly in Iran than anywhere else in the region, killing more than 80,000 people by the official count.
Among those who lined up to vote at schools, mosques and community centers, many said they supported Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families.
A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed the frontrunner for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would “move the country forward... and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation.”
Raisi has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.
To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has sanctioned him over the purge, in which Raisi has denied playing a part.
Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in fields from industrial policy to foreign affairs.
Rouhani, 72, leaves office in August after serving the maximum two consecutive four-year-terms allowed under the constitution.
His landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and launched a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran.
While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it is still planning to build the bomb and destabilising the Middle East through armed proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted. The economy nosedived and spiralling prices fueled repeated bouts of social unrest which were put down by security forces.
Iran’s ultraconservative camp — which deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the “Great Satan” or the “Global Arrogance” in the Islamic republic — attacked Rouhani over the failing deal.
Despite this, there is broad agreement among all the candidates including Raisi that Iran must seek an end to the US sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aiming to revive the nuclear accord


Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues
Updated 19 June 2021

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues

Abu Dhabi temporarily suspends use of coronavirus green pass due to technical issues
  • The committee approved the use of text messages to show coronavirus test results for those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi has temporarily suspended the use of green pass on Al Hosn app due to technical issues faced by some users, state news agency WAM reported.
The Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee said it reviewed the possible causes of the problem, as the digital platform received a surge in new subscriptions. It has also ensured the app’s team are working to restore the service as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the committee approved the use of text messages to show coronavirus test results for those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi.
The decision came into effect on June 18 and will continue until the app is updated.
Residents and visitors who want to enter public spaces including shopping malls and large supermarkets, gyms, hotels, parks and beaches, private beaches and restaurants and cafes must have a green status on Al Hosn, to have access in such places.


EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen

EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen
Updated 19 June 2021

EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen

EU’s Borrell plans Beirut talks as economic crisis fears deepen
  • Lebanon fuel crunch inspires demonstrations at gas stations and supermarkets
  • Rocket-propelled grenades found in Beirut rubbish

BEIRUT: Josep Borrell, the high representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy and vice-president of the European Commission, is expected to start a round of talks with Lebanese officials in Beirut on Saturday.

This comes days ahead of a meeting of EU officials in Brussels, called by France, to discuss imposing sanctions on Lebanese officials accused of corruption and political obstruction.

Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, director general of the General Security, highlighted “Russia’s constant will to stand by Lebanon and support it on the economic and security levels.”

He made his comments following talks with Russian officials.

Ibrahim added: “There should be a government, regardless of its form, in order to find solutions to all problems in Lebanon.”

He is a prominent figure in Lebanon who often conducts foreign negotiations.

Meanwhile, the living crisis is worsening, leading to armed clashes.

People are still waiting for long hours to fill up on gasoline amid shortages of fuel, which is subsidized by the state. The subsidy is expected to be lifted soon.

But this is dependent on the ration card for needy people, which is still being debated by parliamentary committees.

The fuel crisis sparked a clash on Friday in front of a gas station in Tripoli, which led to a shooting, with no casualties.

Also in Tripoli, a clash in front of a supermarket led to exchanging shots, causing two injuries.

The city has the biggest percentage of struggling Lebanese, who were impoverished further due to the collapse of the currency.

For the second consecutive day, employees of the public sector stuck to their strike which was called for by the Public Administration Employees Association in protest against the collapse of their purchasing power and the deterioration of economic and living conditions.

Contacts and consultations related to forming the new government have stalled after the failure of the initiative of the Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, but he has insisted that “it is still standing.”

Walid Jumblatt, president of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) said: “It is impossible for some officials to keep waiting while the country’s conditions are retreating.”

Jumblatt added: “It is time for a settlement away from personal calculations.”

In the past two days, Berri had joined Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri in accusing President Michel Aoun and his political party of trying to get the blocking third in the government, contrary to the constitution.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Internal Security forces announced that they “captured 16 RPG type rocket-propelled grenades, and five grenades of other types dumped in waste containers near the House of the Druze Community in Lebanon in Beirut.”

Internal Security also declared that the “old ammunition” was removed after being examined by its explosives experts.

The identity of the party which disposed of the ammunition remains unknown.

The Anti-Narcotics Division at the Lebanese Customs seized a large quantity of Captagon pills hidden in a container loaded with stones, destined to be smuggled to Saudi Arabia via the port of Beirut.

“Some people implicated in the operation were arrested,” declared the caretaker Minister of Interior Mohammed Fahmi.

Speaking at the Port of Beirut, he revealed that the shipment was destined for Jeddah.