Diplomatic push for Gaza truce as Israel, Hamas trade heavy fire

Diplomatic push for Gaza truce as Israel, Hamas trade heavy fire
Palestinian firefighters battle flames following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City May 20, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 20 May 2021

Diplomatic push for Gaza truce as Israel, Hamas trade heavy fire

Diplomatic push for Gaza truce as Israel, Hamas trade heavy fire
  • Wennesland is visiting Qatar for talks with Ismail Haniyeh as part of an effort to "restore calm"
  • Angela Merkel said "indirect talks" with Hamas were essential to advancing efforts toward an end of hostilities

GAZA: Diplomatic efforts gathered pace Thursday for a ceasefire on the 11th day of deadly violence between Israel and armed Palestinian groups in Gaza as air strikes again hammered the enclave.
A column of grey smoke billowed above Gaza after a night in which families cowered in fear from the bombing while, the Israeli army said, some 70 rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel, sending residents fleeing into bomb shelters.
Talks continued to end the bloodshed after US President Joe Biden urged a "significant de-escalation" while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to push on until the military campaign reaches its objective, "to restore quiet and security" for Israelis.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland was visiting Qatar for talks with Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of the Islamist group Hamas which rules the enclave, as part of an effort to "restore calm," according to a diplomatic source.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "indirect talks" with Hamas were essential to advancing efforts toward an end of hostilities. "Of course Hamas has to be included because without Hamas there will be no ceasefire," she said.
Her foreign minister, Heiko Maas, speaking earlier near Tel Aviv, expressed Germany's "solidarity" with Israel but also called for an end to the fighting.
"Israel has the right to defend itself against this massive and unacceptable attack," Maas said of the rockets Hamas first fired on May 10 following violent clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
"The number of victims is rising every day and this greatly concerns us, which is why we support the international efforts for a ceasefire and are convinced that the violence needs to end soon in the interest of the people."
Maas was also due to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank but had no plans to meet with Hamas, which the European Union considers a terrorist organisation.
A senior Hamas official told AFP: "We expect a return to calm in the coming hours, or tomorrow (Friday), but it depends on the cessation of the aggression of the occupation forces in Gaza and Jerusalem.
"But there is nothing definitive for the moment," added the source, indicating that Qatar, an emirate financing aid to Gaza and where Haniyeh lives, was at the heart of "intense" negotiations.
The Israeli army said Hamas and other Islamist armed groups in Gaza have fired 4,070 rockets towards Israel, with the overwhelming majority of those that were bound for populated areas intercepted by its Iron Dome air defences.
The rockets have claimed 12 lives in Israel, including one child, with one Indian and two Thai nationals among those killed, the police say.
Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, according to the Gaza health ministry, leaving vast areas in rubble and displacing some 120,000 people, according to the Hamas government.
Overnight, Israel continued to pound Gaza with air strikes and artillery fire aimed at destroying Hamas tunnels and other infrastructure, the military said.
One Israeli strike on Gaza on Wednesday killed a disabled man, his pregnant wife and their three-year-old child, the enclave's health ministry said.
"What did my brother do?" the man's bereaved brother Omar Saleha, 31, told AFP. "He was just sitting in his wheelchair."
Israel says it takes all steps to avoid civilian casualties, including by phoning residents to warn them of imminent strikes, and blames Hamas for placing weapons and military sites in densely populated areas.
The United States, a key Israel ally, has repeatedly blocked adoption of a joint UN Security Council statement calling for a halt to hostilities, including one proposed by France, saying it could undermine efforts to de-escalate the crisis.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken however again stressed on Twitter that Washington "expects to see de-escalation on the path to a ceasefire".
An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday Israel was assessing at what stage it may stop its military campaign.
The UN General Assembly, where no member has veto power, was set to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue Thursday.
Israel's bombing campaign has left the two million people of Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade for 14 years, desperate for relief.
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned that people in both Gaza and Israel "urgently need respite from non-stop hostilities".
The World Health Organization on Thursday issued an urgent appeal for $7 million it said are needed to "enable a comprehensive emergency response in the next six months" following the escalation of violence.
The military conflict has sharply heightened tensions and sparked violence between Jews and Arab-Israelis, while Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have repeatedly clashed with security forces.
In the West Bank, the army has killed 25 Palestinians since the outbreak of hostilities. The worst death toll in years in the occupied Palestinian territory includes several Palestinians who the Israeli army said had attempted to ram or stab Israeli forces at checkpoints.


Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
Updated 37 min 35 sec ago

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM

Abu Dhabi crown prince receives call from Israeli PM
  • The crown prince congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli PM
  • Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness

DUBAI: The crown prince of Abu Dhabi received a call from the prime minister of Israel on Friday during which they discussed cooperation between the two countries.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Naftali Bennett also discussed regional and international issues of common interest and efforts to achieve peace and prosperity regionally and internationally.
Bennett congratulated Sheikh Mohammed on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha and wished him continued health and happiness, and the UAE and its people further progress and prosperity.
Sheikh Mohammed thanked the prime minister and expressed his hopes that peace and prosperity prevail for all of mankind.
The crown prince also congratulated Bennett on assuming the position of Israeli prime minister and expressed his aspiration that the UAE and Israel would work together toward peace, stability and development for the benefit of the region and the world.


Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
Updated 23 July 2021

Iran’s Khuzestan protests: Water was the trigger, anti-Arab discrimination is the reason

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. (Screenshots/Social Media)
  • ‘There are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,’ protester tells Arab News
  • Despite being rich in oil, the province’s Arabs are one of the most deprived communities in the country

 

LONDON: Iran’s Arab population has been on the frontline of water-shortage protests across cities in Khuzestan province this week.

Protesters, rights groups and activists say the water demand by Ahwazi Arabs is part of wider discontent over historic and systematic racial discrimination. 

“The reasons for the protests are many. In fact, there are accumulations of injustice, persecution and racism against Arabs,” a protester told Arab News on condition of anonymity. 

Among the reasons are “oil and gas, and now the regime stole the waters of the rivers and dried up their lands,” the protester said, adding that Ahwazi Arabs “face many problems with unemployment and the obliteration of Arab identity.”

The protester said: “The demands are clear and legitimate: Provide agricultural water, restore rivers to their streams, open dams, employ Arabs in oil and gas companies, give freedom of expression and appoint officials from our governorate to feel our pain and concerns.

“Ahwaz hasn’t witnessed an Arab official since 1925. All officials are chosen from the center. They drain the governorate’s money then leave after stealing its wealth.” 

Videos shared on social media show water buffalos and fish lifeless on the ground due to dehydration in Ahwazi-Arab marshlands and villages.

Arabs in these areas rely on raising their cattle to get by, and water supply is essential for them to be able to make a living from agriculture. 

Khuzestan MP Abdollah Izadpanah blamed the water shortages on “mistakes and unjustified decisions,” including the extraction of water from Khuzestan’s rivers to other provinces. 

Among Iran’s Arab community, it is believed that the drying up of marshlands and the diversion of water are part of a state-led effort to displace them and change the province’s demography.

In a viral video released earlier this month, a local Arab sheikh tells officials: “We aren’t going to leave this land. You brought us floods and drought to make us migrate. We won’t leave. This is our ancestral land.”

US-based human rights advocate Rahim Hamid told Arab News: “Many Ahwazi activists have asserted that the state’s ongoing river-damming and diversion projects are part of a demographic change policy intended to force the indigenous Arab people from their lands.”

He added: “Protesters have voiced loud opposition to any such demographic change, chanting ‘no, no to displacement’ and ‘we protect Ahwaz with our blood and soul’.”

In his spring 2021 report, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on Iran, Javid Rehman, noted “reports of forced evictions in ethnic minority areas” impacting Ahwazi Arabs.

Amnesty International has so far reported eight people killed by security forces during the protests.

Among them was teenager Hadi Bahmani, reportedly a Bakhtiari, who like others from that community joined the Khuzestan protests in solidarity with Ahwazi Arabs. 

Hamid said Tehran is “maligning the protesters as separatist extremists, with regime officials and media adding insult to injury by using their customary racist anti-Arab language in their desperate efforts to delegitimize the protesters’ calls for fundamental human rights.”

Protesters have constantly assured Tehran that the demonstrations are peaceful and that their demands are not tied to separatism.

Instead, they want the regime to address both the water crisis and the multi-layered discrimination that Arabs in the country face.

Despite the oil-rich province, which is Iran’s largest source of foreign revenue, being Ahwazi Arabs’ home, they are one of the most deprived communities in the country and face abject poverty. 

In January, Mohsen Haidari, a senior cleric representing Khuzestan in the Assembly of Experts — the deliberative body empowered to appoint Iran’s supreme leader — publically spoke of anti-Arab discrimination being rife in employment. 


Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN

Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN
Updated 23 July 2021

Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN

Lebanon water supply could collapse in a month: UN
  • Over 4 million people, including 1 million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon, UNICEF said
  • Most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next 4 to 6 weeks

BEIRUT: The shortages and currency crunch in Lebanon could lead to a collapse of the mains water supply in Lebanon within a month, the UN’s Children Fund warned Friday.
“More than four million people, including one million refugees, are at immediate risk of losing access to safe water in Lebanon,” UNICEF said.
The UN agency said that maintenance costs incurred in US dollars, funding shortages and the parallel collapse of the power grid were rapidly destroying the water sector.
“UNICEF estimates that most water pumping will gradually cease across the country in the next four to six weeks,” it said.
“A loss of access to the public water supply could force households to make extremely difficult decisions regarding their basic water, sanitation and hygiene needs,” UNICEF Representative in Lebanon Yukie Mokuo said.
Lebanon’s meltdown, which started with a financial crisis caused by state corruption and mismanagement, is fast spreading to every aspect of daily life.
The Lebanese pound, which for years was pegged to the US dollar, has lost more than 90 percent of its value over the past 18 months.
Electricity in most places is barely available an hour a day while the fuel needed to power generators is also in short supply.
Basic medicines have been missing from pharmacy shelves for months and private hospitals warned on Thursday they were “hours away” from losing all power supply.


American Jewish groups support Ben & Jerry’s decision to end sales in Occupied Territories

Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was
Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was "inconsistent with our values." (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2021

American Jewish groups support Ben & Jerry’s decision to end sales in Occupied Territories

Ben & Jerry's announced that it will stop selling ice cream in the Israel-occupied Palestinian territories since it was "inconsistent with our values." (AFP)
  • The company stressed that its decision only applies to illegal Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Territories, and not to Israel
  • The US government does not officially recognize Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of Israel

ATLANTA: Iconic ice-cream maker Ben & Jerry’s decision to stop selling its products in illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories has reignited the debate over whether international companies should boycott Israeli settlements as part of the effort to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

Officials from two Republican-controlled states — Texas and Florida — weighed in on the debate on Thursday, issuing statements threatening Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever with sanctions if the ice-cream brand does not reverse its decision. Officials also called on their citizens to boycott Ben & Jerry’s.

Texas and Florida are two of the 35 American states to have passed laws, or to have executive orders, that prevent companies from participating in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is designed to negatively impact Israel’s economy as a way of protesting its actions against Palestine.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan sent a letter to the governors of those 35 states demanding they take legal action against Ben & Jerry’s. Israeli officials and pro-Israeli groups in the US have called the company’s decision “anti-Semitic,” “anti-Israel,” and “a new form of terrorism.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street — an influential liberal Jewish group based in Washington D.C, issued a statement rejecting those labels, however.  

“When a major ice-cream company founded by two Jewish entrepreneurs decides not to sell its products in occupied Palestinian territory, that isn’t antisemitism. It doesn’t ‘dehumanize Jews.’ It’s not an act of violence or hatred,” he said. “What it does is draw a principled and rational distinction between commercial transactions inside the sovereign State of Israel, and those in the territory it occupies.”

Ben-Ami also decried Erdan for interfering in domestic US politics and for lobbying to pass “constitutionally dubious laws” — a reference to anti-BDS laws — that undermine the First Amendment rights of American citizens, then demanding the use of such laws against Ben & Jerry’s.

Rabbi Les Bronstein, board co-chair of the New York-based Jewish organization T’ruah, which represents more than 2,000 rabbis and their communities in North America, released a similar statement describing the labeling of Ben & Jerry’s decision as anti-Semitic as a “deliberate attempt to distract from the significant human rights violations faced by Palestinians every day.”

Bronstein called on American officials to reject calls to penalize Ben & Jerry’s and also criticized Erdan.

“Asking the US to target the company under unconstitutional anti-BDS laws is political gamesmanship with very real consequences,” he said. “We call on American officials to reject the request to penalize Ben & Jerry’s under anti-BDS laws, which violate the First Amendment and open the door to much broader government control of public discourse.”

Ben & Jerry’s is well-known for its support of various social causes. In a statement early last week, the company said: “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). We also hear and recognize the concerns shared with us by our fans and trusted partners.”

Vermont-based pro-Palestinian human rights organization Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP) has, since 2013, called on Ben & Jerry’s to remove its products from illegal Israeli settlements.

The company stressed that its decision only applies to illegal Israeli settlements inside the Occupied Territories, and not to Israel.

The US government does not officially recognize Israeli settlements built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of Israel.

Israel occupied the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights during the 1967 war and has since constructed hundreds of settlements for Jewish residents — an action that violates international law, which bans occupying powers from moving their own citizens into occupied territories.


Blinken: Washington is proud of its strong partnership with Iraq

Blinken: Washington is proud of its strong partnership with Iraq
Updated 23 July 2021

Blinken: Washington is proud of its strong partnership with Iraq

Blinken: Washington is proud of its strong partnership with Iraq
  • Iraq’s FM said that Baghdad is keen to develop and strengthen relations with Washington in all fields
  • Fuad Hussein added that Daesh still exists as a terrorist and military organisation

LONDON: Washington is proud of its strong partnership with Iraq that has deep roots, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday.

During a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart, Blinken said that Washington’s partnership with Iraq goes beyond countering Daesh and is based on mutual respect.

Fuad Hussein is part of a high-ranking delegation on a visit to the US and President Joe Biden will host Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi at the White House on July 26.

Al-Kadhimi is expected to push for a concrete timetable of foreign troop withdrawal during the meeting. 

Iraq’s foreign minister said that Baghdad is keen to develop and strengthen relations with Washington in all fields including economically and politically.

Hussein expressed his hopes that the results of discussions between Iraq and America will serve both countries. 

He added that the US is a key partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh and that his government needs to exchange information with Washington to confront the terrrorist organisation.

The foreign minister added that Daesh still exists as a terrorist and military organisation and that the recent suicide bombing in Sadr City proves that Daesh remnants are still active.

Hussein called on the international community to take action to confront Daesh.

 The Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, together with its local partners, liberated all territory controlled by the extremist organization in Iraq and Syria, in March 2019.