Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
Palestinians praying around bodies of 13 Hamas militants, killed in Israeli air strikes, during their funeral at al-Omari mosque in Gaza City. An Egyptian delegation arrived Thursday to negotiate a cease-fire with Israeli and Hamas officials. (AFP)
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Updated 13 May 2021

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks

Egypt delegation in Tel Aviv for cease-fire talks
  • An Egyptian delegation is negotiating a cease-fire with Israeli and Hamas officials
  • Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides

CAIRO: An Egyptian delegation is in Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli officials as part of efforts to negotiate a cease-fire in the escalating conflict with Gaza, Egyptian intelligence officials said Thursday.
The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to brief the media. The same delegation met with Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip first, they said, and crossed into Israel by land. Egypt has played a mediating role in the past between the sides.
Late Wednesday, Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukry, condemned Israeli attacks on Palestinian territory in a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi. He said it was important for both sides to avoid escalation and resorting to military means, according to a readout of the call.


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.


EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document

EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document
Updated 18 June 2021

EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document

EU sets out potential criteria for Lebanese sanctions — document
  • Led by France, the EU is seeking to ramp up pressure on Lebanon's squabbling politicians
  • Senior European official told Reuters Paris had set its sights on sanctioning powerful Christian politician Gebran Bassil

PARIS/BRUSSELS: Criteria for European Union sanctions being prepared for Lebanese politicians are likely to be corruption, obstructing efforts to form a government, financial mishandling and human rights abuses, according to a diplomatic note seen by Reuters.
Led by France, the EU is seeking to ramp up pressure on Lebanon’s squabbling politicians after 11 months of a crisis that has left Lebanon facing financial collapse, hyperinflation, electricity blackouts, and fuel and food shortages.
The bloc, which has been holding technical discussions on possible measures for the last month, has yet to decide on which approach to take, but foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is due in Lebanon this weekend and will report back to foreign ministers on Monday.
As many senior Lebanese politicians have homes, bank accounts and investments in the EU, and send their children to universities there, a withdrawal of that access could help focus minds.
Paris says it has already taken measures to restrict entry for some Lebanese officials it sees as blocking efforts to tackle the crisis, which is rooted in decades of state corruption and debt, although it has not named anybody publicly.
The EU first needs to set up a sanctions regime that could then see individuals hit by travel bans and asset freezes, although it may also decide to not list anybody immediately.
The note, which also outlines the strengths and weaknesses of taking such a measure, focuses on four criteria. It begins with obstructing the establishment of a government, the political process or the successful completion of the political transition and then turns to obstructing the implementation of urgent reforms needed to overcome the political, economic and social crisis.
Financial mishandling, which would target people, entities or bodies believed to be responsible for the mismanagement of public finances and the banking sector, is also a core criteria as is the violation of human rights as a result of the economic and social crisis.
“It might be argued that the lack of political responsibility of the leadership in Lebanon is at the core of a massive implosion of the economy,” the note reads, referring to the possible human rights criteria.
“This has led to significant suffering and has affected the human rights of the population in Lebanon.”
Such diplomatic notes are common in EU policymaking, circulated among EU diplomats and officials, although they are not made public.
The note also says an “exit strategy” proposing benchmarks for establishing whether the sanctions regime has served its purpose as well as for renewing or lifting individual designations should also be put in place.
How quickly sanctions could be imposed is still unclear, but with political divisions continuing to worsen, the bloc is likely to press ahead before the summer holiday period.
There are divisions among the 27 EU states over the wisdom of EU sanctions, but the bloc’s two main powers, France and Germany are in favor, which is likely to prove pivotal. A larger group of nations has yet to specify their approach.
Hungary has publicly denounced EU efforts to pressure Lebanese politicians.
A senior European official told Reuters Paris had set its sights on sanctioning powerful Christian politician Gebran Bassil, who is already under US sanctions.


UN human rights office demands end to Houthi offensive in Marib

UN human rights office demands end to Houthi offensive in Marib
Updated 18 June 2021

UN human rights office demands end to Houthi offensive in Marib

UN human rights office demands end to Houthi offensive in Marib
  • UNCHR says Iran-backed rebels who target civilians in Yemen are guilty of war crimes and ‘must be held accountable’
  • Houthi drone attack on a gas station in Marib killed more than 20 people, including two children, earlier this month

LONDON: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) has demanded an end to the Iran-backed Houthis’ assault on Marib in Yemen and criticized their cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia.

“We are seriously concerned at the continuing impact of fighting on civilians and the targeting of civilian objects in Marib Governorate in Yemen,” UNCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell told Arab News in a human rights briefing on Friday.

“Houthi forces, also known as Ansar Allah, have been trying to seize from the Yemeni government for several months.”

She highlighted a recent missile and drone attack on a compound, which housed civilian infrastructure and a mosque. The attack left eight dead and injured 30 more. Ambulances were also targeted during the attack as first responders were among the injured.

Throssell also pointed to another Houthi atrocity in Marib — the June 5 missile attack on a petrol station — which killed 21 people, including two children under the age of 13.

“Victims of arbitrary killings, including those amounting to war crimes, have a right to justice, and perpetrators of such acts, regardless of affiliation, must be held accountable,” Throssell said.

“We call on all parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including their obligation to respect the principles of distinction. It prohibits the targeting of civilians and civilian objects and infrastructure, as well as the principles of proportionality and precautions in attack.”

The UN representative also addressed the Houthis’ sustained assault on neighboring Saudi Arabia.

“Cross-border attacks by Ansar Allah into the territory of Saudi Arabia have also been continuing,” Throssell said.

“To date, since January, Ansar Allah has launched some 128 drone strikes and 31 ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia. While the majority of the targets have been of a military nature, civilian infrastructure, including civilian airports and industrial facilities, have been hit.”

Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, has been embroiled in a bitter civil war since the Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized power in a 2014 coup. A Saudi-led coalition then intervened in the conflict on behalf of the UN-recognized government.

The Kingdom proposed a comprehensive peace plan, which is backed by its regional and Western partners. The coalition sees an end to the fighting, supports the delivery of humanitarian aid, and the implementation of a political solution to the conflict.

However, the Houthis have flouted the agreement and pushed forward in an attempt to capture the government-held city of Marib — an assault that has claimed the lives of many civilians.

“We urge all parties in the conflict to go back to the negotiating table and agree on a nationwide ceasefire,” Throssell said. “As has been repeated time and again, only a political solution can end this conflict.”


10 arrested, 9 injured as protesters at Al-Aqsa face rubber bullets

10 arrested, 9 injured as protesters at  Al-Aqsa face rubber bullets
Updated 19 June 2021

10 arrested, 9 injured as protesters at Al-Aqsa face rubber bullets

10 arrested, 9 injured as protesters at  Al-Aqsa face rubber bullets
  • About 1,000 Palestinians gathered in Al-Aqsa Mosque compound after weekly prayers

JERUSALEM: Israeli police on Friday arrested 10 Palestinians during clashes at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, with nine people injured as protesters hurled rocks and officers fired rubber bullets, police and medics said.

About 1,000 people gathered in the compound after weekly prayers chanting “God is great” and some hoisting Palestinian flags. Some demonstrators threw stones at police, who raided the site, a reporter said.

The confrontation came after Palestinians protested against Jewish nationalists who had marched through Israel-annexed East Jerusalem on Tuesday, chanting insults to Islam.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said nine people were hurt, including three hospitalized in the confrontation, with injuries due to “beatings, rubber bullets and sound bombs.”

“Several dozen youths began disturbing the order and throwing stones toward security men,” police said in a statement, adding that “Ten suspects were arrested.”

A day earlier, police said they arrested eight people who demonstrated at the Damascus Gate, an entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, where the nationalist Jewish march had congregated.

Also on Friday, Palestinians protested near Nablus in the occupied West Bank against the expansion of a Jewish settlement on the lands of Beita village. The Red Crescent said 47 people were injured when security forces fired tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.

The Al-Aqsa compound lies in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967, in a move most of the international community does not recognize.


Oman, slowest vaccinator in the Gulf, pushes campaign amid COVID-19 surge

Oman, slowest vaccinator in the Gulf, pushes campaign amid COVID-19 surge
Updated 18 June 2021

Oman, slowest vaccinator in the Gulf, pushes campaign amid COVID-19 surge

Oman, slowest vaccinator in the Gulf, pushes campaign amid COVID-19 surge
  • The UAE’s more than 14 million administered doses is enough to have vaccinated about 72.6 percent of the country of around 9.8 million
  • Oman by comparison has administered enough to have vaccinated about 6.1 percent of the country of around 5 million

DUBAI: Fresh COVID-19 vaccine supplies are accelerating inoculations in Oman, which has had the slowest rollout in the Gulf due to procurement difficulties, a government health official said, as a surge in cases puts hospitals under pressure.
“The situation is now changing, we are regularly now receiving stocks of vaccine ... the campaign again has started,” Zahir Ghassan Al-Abri, of the General Directorate of Primary Health Care at Oman’s Ministry of Health, told Reuters.
Since it began vaccinating in May, Oman has given at least one dose to around 15 percent of the eligible population, said Abri. Ministry of health data on Tuesday shows 720,199 doses have been given in the country of around 4.5 million people, with 184,621 people having received two doses.
Reuters analysis, based on the number of vaccinations administered per total population assuming every person needs two doses, shows Oman to be lagging far behind its neighbors.
The United Arab Emirates’ more than 14 million administered doses is enough to have vaccinated about 72.6 percent of the country of around 9.8 million. Oman by comparison has administered enough to have vaccinated about 6.1 percent of the country.
Kuwait, which also experienced some procurement delays, has administered enough to have vaccinated about 21.6 percent of the country.
Abri said the slow campaign was due to supply difficulties.
“As with other countries the delivery of these vaccines has not been met through the agreed timeline for different reasons.”
Oman offers the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines. It has not approved the shot produced by China’s state-owned Sinopharm, which the UAE used in its early, rapid rollout after hosting Phase III clinical trials.
Asked whether Oman plans to introduce other vaccines, including Sinopharm, Abri said they would be considered as long as they met government standards.
“The strategy adopted by the ministry of health since the beginning is selecting vaccines based on reports of efficacy and safety, as approved by research and guidelines published by different international organizations.”
Cases in Oman have trended upwards since January, with a pronounced surge since a dip in early May.
It has recorded 242,723 cases and 2,626 deaths in total. On Thursday it reported 2,015 new cases.
Oman’s media this week said hospitals nationwide were straining under rising cases. A main field hospital in the capital Muscat was at more than 90 percent capacity, state media said.
Aiming to vaccinate everyone 12 and over by the end of the year, Oman will on Sunday offer shots to people over 45.